Since the renaissance feather fans have been used in European courts, where they are considered to be a luxury item and a status symbol. In the early 19th century, French Royal Courts would organise balls with historic themes that referred to the ‘ancien regime’, the era before the French revolution. As a result the feather fan became popular again. Queens and princesses – and in their imitation the rich bourgeois – liked to be portrayed holding a feather hand fan. An ostrich feather hand fan was particularly popular.
At the onset of the 20th century ostrich feathers dominate the scene and they continue to become bigger and bigger due to the use of extended ostrich feathers – also known as pleureuses. The technique to extend ostrich feathers (by tying various beards together) is not new, but is then being used for all kinds of hand fans.
After a period of predominantly white, black and grey ostrich feathers, they are then dyed in various shades, solid colors or gradient. They continue, however, to be almost exclusively used for evening gowns. The Belgian Queen Astrid (1905-1935), wife of Belgium’s King Leopold III also follows this fashion. Four of the Queen’s ostrich feather fans from the Royal Collection in Brussels is exhibited in the Birds of Paradise exhibition. In 1935, Leon De Smet (1881-1966) portrayed the Queen holding one of the fans, thus continuing a centuries-old tradition of the official portrait with an ostrich feather fan.
MoMu also posses a large collection of feather fans, in various types of feathers.
Left: Fan with leaf in Guinea fowl feathers and frame in imitation tortoise shell, with silk cord and tassel, 1890-1910. Right: Fan with leaf in Guinea fowl feathers and Impeyan Pheasant and frame in imitation tortoise shell with silk cord and tassel, 1880-1900.
Fan with leaf in eagle feathers and down and frame in imitation tortoise shell, 1895-1915.
Fan with leaf in ostrich feathers and frame in imitation tortoise shell, 1890-1910.
Fan with leaf in pheasant feathers and frame in nacre, 1890-1910.