Object in Focus

An Incredible Fan!

Paper fan decorated with one of the most famous fashion caricatures of the late 1790s: Les Incroyables by Carle Vernet. Photo: Nordic Museum, Sweden







Prepared by: Peter McNeil (University of Technology Sidney & Stockholm University) and Patrik Steorn (Stockholm University)

Read full paper here.

Fashion is not just about wearing but also might be about a new way of appearing for pleasure, including the pleasure of looking at other men and women. The object in focus here, an ’Incroyable Fan’ located in the Nordic Museum in Sweden, is a good example of the complexity of fashion meanings. This short essay will range a little across the channel from England to France and on to Sweden, as the cultures knew what was going on elsewhere and were becoming very symbiotic. They pirated each others’ prints, and so French images were well known in England, for example. The French loved English dressing, but they created from its elements much more than the sum of its parts.

Images were on the move. An expanded understanding of fashion supported the transnational migration of fashion-related motifs into Swedish print culture in the 18th century, and the ’instabilities’ of printed matter allowed motifs to travel beyond the printed paper to ceramics, fans, and other objects that participated in sociability and fashionable display. This fan is carefully decorated with one of the most famous fashion caricatures of the late 1790s: Les Incroyables by Carle Vernet. Together with the female counterpart, Les Merveilleuses, these fashionable figures are associated with the French Directoire period, 1795-1799 and the Counter-Revolution movement in which surviving members of the aristocracy and a growing number of ‘nouveau riche’ were drawn to exuberant appearances and an aesthetic of exaggeration.


Related material (visual, textual sources)

Visual sources

Front of paper fan depicting "Les Incroyables" by C. Vernet

Back of paper fan depicting "Les Incroyables" by C. Vernet


Documentary sources

Catalogue Entry for the paper fan of “Les Incroyables”, the Nordic Museum, Sweden.




Gendron, François. The Gilded Youth of the Thermidor, Montreal and Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993.
Le Bourhis, Katell (ed). The Age of Napoleon. Costume from Revolution to Empire, 1789-1815, Metropolitan Museum of Art/Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1989.
Lemoine, Thierry [et al]. Au temps des merveilleuses : la societe parisienne sous le Directoire et le Consulat : 9 mars-12 juin 2005, Musée Carnavalet, Paris : Paris Musées, 2005.
Ribeiro, Aileen. Fashion in the French Revolution, London : Batsford, 1988.





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