A tool of seduction if ever there were one, the fan can also rise to the rank of art, like this one by Georges Bastard, heir to a dynasty of table inlayers who breathed new life into these precious accessories.
Georges Bastard (1881-1939), Les Camélias, folding fan in changing goldfish mother-of-pearl, dyed mauve, decorated with camellias and hearts with gold highlights, original Havana ribbon, h 21.5 cm (8.47 in).
Depending on one’s point of view, Valentine’s Day is commercial exploitation, a celebration of love or just an ordinary day. In any case, it has nothing to do with the saint it is named after. Eight had the same name; none was the patron saint of lovers. What is not a legend, however, is that fans speak the language of lovers. In early 17th-century Catholic Spain, women used the “useful zephyr” to cool down in hot weather, of course, but also to translate the secret code of lovers. A fan meant “we’re being watched” if it was held in the right hand, “I love you” if the top rested on the chin and “I’m yours” if it was dropped on the ground. It is easy to imagine that the Marquise de Merteuil—the main antagonist of the 1782 French epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) —was an expert in this secret code during France’s golden age of fans, when they were highly refined.
By the early 1900s precious materials like gold, silver, precious stones, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl and ivory were no longer used to make fans, but Georges Bastard nevertheless restored them to their former glory. He turned them into objets d’art, or, more exactly, works of art. An example is this heavy yet fragile, brilliantly decorated fan. The visual effect is guaranteed, the craftsmanship was a tour de force. Goldfish mother-of-pearl, a seashell from Japan, was boiled, polished, dyed, cut up into small beveled pieces and glued to form dainty motifs whose transparency let the play of light create astonishing brilliant effects. Two plumes of the same workmanship (one has been replaced) and an original ribbon complete the fan. The artist did not sign this one, as he sometimes did, but his preparatory drawing is in a private collection.
Bastard was born in Andeville, in the Oise, an area with special ties to mother-of-pearl and marquetry. He came from a long line of fan-makers, though his great-grandfather, grandfather and father were also qualified goldsmiths. Bastard trained with them before enrolling in the École des arts décoratifs in Paris. He was just 27 when he exhibited mother-of-pearl letter-openers, boxes with stylized naturalistic decoration and fans at the Palais Galliera. In 1909 Bastard, a close friend of Charles Despiau and Jean-Louis Forain, who worked with Edgar Brandt on decorating the Normandie ocean liner, was present alongside Lucien Gaillard and René Lalique. Mother-of-pearl and horn were his favorite materials, but ivory, rock, jade, coral and pink quartz also captured his imagination. Bastard nurtured his talent by going back to basics: materials. This fan decorated with camellias, which Gabrielle Chanel valued so much that she made them her emblem in 1923, recalls that it is an art form. No equivalent is known in public or private collections.