Why I’m a big fan of the little Fan Museum

The Fan Museum has carved out a small but important niche for itself since opening in 1992. Located in a beautiful Grade-2 listed house in historic Greenwich, it was the first museum of its kind in the world, helping reveal the beautiful and diverse world of the fan and fan making.

Fan Museum

The incredible variety of the collection

Because the museum’s collection contains over 4,000 fans and related objects, it’s unable to display everything in its small galleries. To get around this, the displays change three times a year.

The good news is that this means you will see something different every time you visit. There is also a permanent display about the history of fans and their manufacture.

Visitors will learn about the way that fans are made – and it’s not as simple as you may think. You will come across the fillet, the gorge, the ribs and the monture, all vital parts of the structure of any folding fan.

While many are painted onto parchment, brisé fans are made from carved wood, bone, ivory and tortoise shell. The skill and craftsmanship on show is overwhelming.

The Elizabethan fan

Painting of Elizabeth I with fan by an unknown artist

The first thing that strikes you when looking at the exhibits is the amazing variety on display, in both design and structure. Some of the fans in the collection date back over eight hundred years.

But it seems fans really took off in Europe in the seventeenth century. There is a stunning Elizabethan fan on display which is remarkable for its intricate and beautiful design.

The art of the fan

Fans became more popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as advances in printing meant that they were no longer the preserve only of the aristocracy.

It seems that every great art movement expressed itself through the medium of fans. Many of the leading impressionist artists painted fans. Their inspiration often came from Japanese art and culture which had a huge impact on western aesthetics at this time. 

Similarly, the Art Deco movement produced some stunning pieces. The museum’s collection includes a beautiful fan painted by the great English painter Walter Sickett.

Another modern fan, showing London landmarks in a cool-Britannia style, is very striking.

Fan Museum

Guest exhibits

Upstairs is a temporary display, which is currently showing fans from the famous French collector Gérard Lévy. 

After your visit is over, the stunning Orangery serves delicious teas and snacks. The Museum’s shop sells a wide range of books and fans and fan ephemera.

This small-but-perfectly-formed museum is certainly worth visiting the next time you are in Greenwich.

Further details

The Museum’s website is a fantastic source of information: https://www.thefanmuseum.org.uk/

Because the Museum can display only a fraction of its collection at any one time, it’s worth checking out some of the rest online: https://www.thefanmuseum.org.uk/collections/

Getting There

Train: the Museum is a short walk from the Greenwich overground / DLR station and the Greenwich Cutty Sark DLR.

Bus: the 177, 180, 188, 199, 286, 386 all stop near the museum

Boat: there is a frequent River Bus service to and from nearby Greenwich Pier.

Car: there are a number of Pay & Display car parks nearby.

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