History of the Hand Fan
Fans have been in existence since earliest civilised time. It is highly probable that fans originated from the spontaneous action of ordinary people who used a large leaf or some other suitable object to cool themselves. Ancient illustrations found in Egyptian temples reveal that the fan held a prominent place in noble society as early as the XVIII Dynasty in sixteenth century BC. The Greeks, Etruscans and Romans all used fans for cooling and ceremonial purposes.
In China although both men and women traditionally used fans, few or no modification were dictated by the sex of the owner. The earliest surviving examples are two woven bamboo fans dating back to the second century BC which were excavated from a tomb site in Hunan Province.
Fans from China and Japan, were not fashionable or feminine but were symbols of significance both social and religious. It was the custom to request an artist to paint a fan for a particular purpose, such as a farewell gift or as a token of friendship. Fan painting became a recognised branch of Chinese art and the leading artists of their time produced paintings for fans amongst their work. A parallel partnership of fine art and fans occurred in Europe during the latter part of the 19th century with the advent of Impressionism. Many of the leading impressionists and post impressionists painted fan leaves mainly inspired by Japanese art and culture. The fan’s purpose evolved from being functional and decorative into fine art, indeed Degas exhibited nineteen hand painted fans and Pissarro exhibited twelve at the Fourth Impressionist Exhibit in 1878/79.