James Tissot painted The Fan about 1875 in London, where he had been living in the four years after the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune.
Following the bloody end to the Commune, Tissot arrived in London in May or June, 1871, with only a hundred francs. By 1873, he was living in a comfortable suburban home at 17 (now 44) Grove End Road in St. John’s Wood, where he built an extension with a studio and conservatory in 1875 that doubled the size of the house.
In his new conservatory, Tissot painted some of his loveliest images, including The Fan, which celebrates the continuing fascination with japonisme during this era. An auburn-haired beauty wearing a loose, pale yellow dressing gown leans against an elegant length of embroidered silk draped over the back of a large upholstered armchair as she fans herself in a conservatory. Behind her is an exuberant russet-colored plant in a cloisonné jardinière, perched on an Oriental table of carved rosewood, and the breezy fronds of a potted palm. Her gown is trimmed in white pleated ruffles, and she wears the black velvet ribbon around her neck that was de rigueur for fashionable women in 1875. A yellow flower dangles from her thick, coiled braids, echoing the golden motifs in the Japanese cloth. The aqua-colored fan painted with Oriental images is crisp and cool, while that bright red edge on the embroidery accents the entire picture as if underscoring the heat. The painting is sheer beauty; there is no narrative nor, as in most of Tissot’s paintings, any psychological tension. Yet it is an arresting image.
The Fan was sold at Sotheby’s, London in 1982 for $ 73,974/£ 42,000 to Charles Jerdein (1916 – 1999). Jerdein was the trainer who officially received the credit when thoroughbred Gilles de Retz landed the 2,000 Guineas in 1956; the Jockey Club did not recognize the female trainer, Helen Johnson-Houghton. Jerdein left Mrs. Johnson-Houghton’s operation that year, trained on his own for a short time, then concentrated on his business as an art dealer in London, though he occasionally had a horse in training in Newmarket. By the early 1960s, Jerdein had pioneered the market for paintings by James Tissot’s friend, the Dutch-born Victorian painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912), before Alma-Tadema’s name became associated with the American television personality who collected his work, Allen Funt of “Candid Camera.”
Jerdein sold The Fan to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Wadsworth Atheneum was founded in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth (1771–1848), an artistic member of an old and wealthy family.
Now comprising five connected buildings, the Wadsworth began in the distinctive Gothic Revival building of 1844, designed by Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis.
It is the largest art museum in the state and is noted for its collections of European Baroque art, French and American Impressionist paintings, Hudson River School landscapes and much more – including Tissot’s wonderful study for his elegant The Marquis and the Marquise de Miramon and their Children, a masterpiece purchased from the family by the Musée d’Orsay in 2006.
I’ve tried to see The Fan for the past few years, but the museum was undergoing renovations. In 2013, The Fan was in the Mississippi Museum of Art’s “Old Masters to Monet” exhibition, one of fifty master works of French art spanning three centuries from the Wadsworth’s collection. After that and through the first two months of 2014, The Fan was on display at the Denver Art Museum’s exhibition, “Court to Café: Three Centuries of French Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum.”
Finally, I was able to see this painting, and it is lush and lovely. See it if you can, but if you can’t manage the trip, here are some close-up photos for you to enjoy.
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