Before the advent of air conditioning, men and women carried fans to help them keep cool. As one scholar has described, “decorative hand-held fans brought relief to an overdressed, overheated society.” These dress accessories also added color, movement and glamour to the indoor landscape for centuries. Among the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library’s collection of fans from the 1800s and the early 1900s is this example: a paper folding fan with bamboo sticks that bears a photogravure of a famous American painting, Robert W. Weir’s Embarkation of the Pilgrims.
Robert Weir (1803-1889) first painted this work in 1843 for the Rotunda of the U. S. Capitol. There it is joined by other depictions of pivotal events drawn from American history, such as Columbus’s landing in the New World and De Soto’s discovery of the Mississippi. Decades later, Weir created a smaller version of the work that fair organizers exhibited at the 1876 Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia. Americans also became familiar with Weir’s version of the Pilgrims' departure from Holland through printed versions. As well, from 1863 through the early 1900s, a version of Weir’s painting decorated $50 bank notes.
Makers likely crafted this fan in the late 1800s or early 1900s. The Photo Gravure Company of New York printed the image on the center of the fan. Craftsmen assembled the fan, affixed metal brilliants to its surface and embellished the fan with painted flowers. Underneath the photogravure of Weir’s painting, the printer featured a quote, “Truly dolful was ye sight of that sad and mournfull parting.” William Bradford (1590-1657), the chronicler of the Pilgrims' settlement, penned those words to describe the travelers’ feelings as they left friends and family behind and started on their journey to Massachusetts.
For a description of the museum's painting, "The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in America, a.d., 1620," by Charles Lucy (1814-1873), see this past post. If you have any information or questions about this fan, please leave us a comment below!
Anna Gray Bennet, Unfolding Beauty: The Art of the Fan, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1988, p. 12.
Fan, 1875-1900. Printed by Photo Gravure Co., A. C. Bosselman, New York, New York. Gift of The Estate of Russell J. and Vera L. Wilder, 75.69.99.