This double-leaf folding hand fan from 1897-1899 features hand-painted cabretille (vellum) on the front and silk on the back. It was handmade and signed by the painter Gabrielle Zaborowska, who was born in Paris in 1852 (we don’t know when she died). Zaborowska was her married name—previously, she went by G. Eylé, which was the name she signed when working for Duvelleroy and other famous fan-making maisons.
Most of Zaborowska’s fans had bucolic themes or were pastiches, according to the fashion and taste of the day. This rare example reveals her Symbolist style, recalling the influence of Gustav Klimt and other painters of that school. This fan was surely painted on commission for an engagement or love declaration, and the depicted female figure is certainly a faithful portrait of the woman who received it as a gift.
The topic of this fan is based on a famous legend, described in the “Almanac” of 1889: “The thistle: in St. John’s eve a young woman tears a thistle and buries it. At the dawn of the day after, she exhume it and look if the flower is white or colored inside. If white, no hopes. If colored, better if vividly, she will get married soon.” The thistle is thus a symbol of beauty protected by the strength, of powerful male energy defending delicate female energy. It is meant to inspire courage and—according to this legend, anyway—allow a woman to know if she is loved by someone who doesn’t dare reveal his feelings.