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This exhibition is in the past. View our current exhibitions.

The Exhibition

Fans have been used since the earliest times to lower the temperature by circulating the air. They were first introduced to northern Europe in the sixteenth century, and for much of the following four hundred years were an intrinsic part of elegant attire, showing off a lady’s hands to advantage. By the late nineteenth century most ladies would have had a number of large and glamorous fans in their wardrobes. The majority of fans in the Royal Collection were produced in Europe – chiefly in France or England, but also in Italy, Holland and Russia.

All the fans included in this exhibition will have been used, although not necessarily by royal ladies: some, for example, were acquired by The Queen’s grandmother, Queen Mary, as collector’s items. With the changes that followed the two World Wars and the cessation of court presentations in the late 1950s, the fashionable use of fans and the making of superb presentation fans was severely reduced. The particular interest of the fans in the Royal Collection lies in the high quality of craftsmanship, combined with their royal associations.

The fans shown in this exhibition belonged to Queen Charlotte (wife of George III); her granddaughter Queen Victoria; Queen Alexandra (the consort of Queen Victoria’s son, King Edward VII); and her daughter-in-law Queen Mary (the consort of King George V). From these illustrious royal personages – each of whom would have used a fan as a matter of course – they passed by descent to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and thence to HM The Queen. 


Fans are made from a number of different materials

This richly decorated and sequinned silk fan is a typical product of a Parisian workshop in the final decade of Louis XVI’s reign. The diversification of ornamental techniques may have resulted from the rigid guild system: until the reforms of 1782 resp

Terminology used to describe the structure of fans

Evolution and Purpose

The history of fans and their use

This fan is a high-quality example of Cantonese fan production in the 1830s or 1840s: large numbers of figures were shown, in which the faces are painted on tiny pieces of ivory and the clothes are made of real silk, pasted onto the paper ground. Graduall

The most spectacular fans in the Royal Collection

Photograph of Queen Victoria, full length, seated and facing three-quarters right, dressed in lace. She holds a fan in her left hand. 

This photograph of the Queen, which was used as an official Jubilee portrait, was actually taken in July 1893, on the
The formation of the fan collection

The Royal Collection includes many fans

Queen Victoria had several sittings for her portrait by Partridge in September and October 1840. This painting is probably the ‘Copy’ recorded by the artist in 1840 as ‘presented at Christmas to Prince Albert’. 

The Queen, in a black evening dr
Queen Victoria and the start of the collection

Queen Victoria delighted in pretty clothes and fashionable accessories

Fans of this form were popular in Europe from the mid-nineteenth century. In these fans, which may derive from Chinese painted feather fans, the decoration continues from leaf to leaf. In the present case the decoration includes the emblems of the British
Queen Victoria’s contemporary fans

The Queen’s wardrobe contained hundreds of fine examples

Queen Alexandra’s fans

Queen Alexandra is thought to have owned between 300 and 400 fans

Wedding presents for the future Queen Mary

Queen Mary received around forty fans as wedding presents

This is a free copy of Gainsborough's full-length portrait of 1781 (RCIN 401407). It is one of a pair (RCIN 405195-6) listed at Kensington Palace with an attribution to Gainsborough's nephew, Gainsborough Dupont. If thgis is right, they may be t
Queen Mary’s fans with royal associations

Queen Mary’s fans included those belonging to Queen Charlotte

This fan was made as a wedding gift for a member of the Orléans family in France, and was bequeathed by the recipient to Queen Mary. It is the only fan in the Royal Collection painted by the nineteenth-century French artist Eugène Lami (1800-1890), who
Other fans acquired in the twentieth century

Fans have continued to be added to the Royal Collection

As explained by Queen Alexandra in a note which remains in the original fan box, the fan was given to Queen Victoria by the Prince and Princess of Wales in the year of the Queen's Golden Jubilee. It was clearly intended to be written on. Between 1891 and
Royal Fans

Fans decorated by members of the royal family

The income from your ticket contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Royal Collection Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational activities.