Hand-colored etched folding paper fan, printed on recto of a single sheet, the etching showing two couples in a park, one pair with a young coachman in a small open carriage, with caption “Ma paole d’honneur! Elle est! Chamante!”, hand-colored in watercolor, within stencil-printed pink decorative border; mounted on original plain wooden sticks, the open leaf measuring approx. 130 x 460 mm., total fan height 275 mm. Condition: a few tiny holes, of which two within etched area, small repair on verso of an outer fold. ***
A rare popular printed fan from the Directory period, satirizing the fashionable young men and women known as Incroyables and Merveilleuses, epithets based on their attitude of wide-eyed exclamation (à la “that’s awesome”). The frivolity of that period was an understandable reaction to the horrors of the Terror, and it expressed itself in costume as well as attitude. Both men and women often wore huge neck scarves and large hats, visible in this print, in which, however, the more famous eccentricities of their dress do not appear. For example, while gaily attired in bright pink and gauzy blue, the ladies are substantially clothed, the season being perhaps too chilly for the transparent gauzy dresses associated with the Merveilleuses. Thus the signature give-away of the identity of the young beaux and belles in this fan is not their clothing, but the caption: a byword of Incroyables and Merveilleuses, besides certain set phrases (like “Incredible,” “Marvelous,” or “my word of honor”), was a dropping of the letter R, or its pronunciation in the English style, instead of the traditional rolled R (supposedly to avoid the R of Revolution). Here parole becomes “paole” and charmante “chamante,” and strategically placed exclamation points convey their air of naive astonishment. They also lisped, so that their speech sounded like that of 3-year olds, providing ample fodder to satirists.
In early 1797, the print publisher Louis Darcis published a pair of caricatures of Incroyables and Merveilleuses after Claude Vernet. These were widely copied and imitated in the decorative arts, including for the cheap, mass-produced paper fans that popped up during the Revolutionary years, replacing the traditional luxury market of bespoke fans. One commentator remarked that if these images could only convey the speech of these privileged youths, the ridicule would be all the more striking (Menal, para. 7). Evidently the publisher of this fan (which looks nothing like the Vernet prints) took this advice to heart.
Cheap and mass-produced, perhaps, but now extremely rare: I locate no other copies of this fan. Cf. Cf. Sibylle Menal, “Les Incroyables de Carle Vernet: l’image comique et son contexte,” Fabula: Les colloques, Le rire: formes et fonctions du comique, online. Item #4242