The Fan Museum, Greenwich
The Fan Museum in Greenwich was an unexpected gem, hidden in a backstreet in Greenwich. I found the whole place charming; the situation, the tea room and the wonderful small exhibition of Belle Epoque fans found upstairs. The whole place has an aura of gentility from the subject matter to the volunteers. It is well worth adding the museum to any Greenwich itinerary, or seeking it out if you're interested in fashion and/or the decorative arts. In order to conserve the fans (and make use of their extensive archives) they put on thematic exhibits which change every three months, so there's often something new to see.
Fans are fascinating both because they are beautiful functional objects, but also because they reflect the social and cultural tastes of their time. The museum's collection of more than 5,000 fans was started by the founder Helene Alexander and her late husband. There's a nice short interview with her here. I was surprised to learn that well known artists such as Gaugin, Sickert and Renoir painted fans and that Mrs. Alexander's favorite fan is one in the collection painted by Gaugin.
I was struck by the beauty and artistry of the fans on display. One of the volunteers explained to me that the Belle Epoque period was the zenith of the artistic expression in fans making, with elaborate and sophisticated painting, luxurious materials and delicate carving found on many of the objects on display.
The exhibit started with a number of fans painted with floral decorative motifs. As you can see below the mechanism of the fan was often carved from mother-of-pearl or tortoise shell which was designed to compliment the painted design.
There were also a number of fans designed as free advertising, below are examples from the Hotel Metropole and Grand Marnier.
Fans come in many forms as you can see with this "fixed" Art Nouveau fan presented to Princess Alexandra. The silver work is delightful.A number of the fans were formal or evening fans, heavily decorated and/or embellished, some were transparent, either completely or partially.
I particularly liked this Pierrot fan which has a playful modern character, with the famous clown running across it.
The following fans have a distinctive Art Nouveau style, I love the carved Venus de Milo style decoration below.
After I finished exploring the small exhibit I went downstairs and had a pot of tea in the small, prettily decorated "Orangery" overlooking the small garden. This is a lovely spot and they do an extraordinarily reasonable afternoon tea for seven pounds. One of the other customers was telling the waitress that they are charging too little! It's little wonder it was described as London's "best value afternoon tea" in the Telegraph in 2012.
Don't expect a full range of sandwiches, this is tea on the sweeter side, essentially a cream tea with cake. Although I didn't partake in the full tea, I enjoyed the surrounding as I sipped my tea. The orangery is open Tuesday, Friday Saturday and Sunday and as they take reservations you could find they are fully booked. Luckily I was there on a Friday when they do not take bookings and it was quite quiet. There are further details on the website.
Tip: Note the Fan Museum is closed on Mondays and doesn't open till 11am most days.