|Ici, cette page en français !
The French Nineteenth century and early Twentieth were less afraid of caricature than is our early Twenty-First century. Many polemicists or designers of the time would have been in 2016 fined or imprisoned, for the irreverent texts or designs they produced then. Particularly, anticlericalism took then a magnitude that previous legislations had not tolerated. This left traces in one of the French conceptions of secularism, which is not always seen as respect for religion and conscience but rather as a battle against the Roman Catholic Church.
Is the fan we present below in this vein? We do not know, and that's why we ask our readers.
A diabolical Capuchin?
This "plein vol" (180° span) fan has wooden (fruitwood?) sticks. They are tinted in bronze green and pierced with leaf motifs. The guards have similar motifs but sculpted in relief. The
rivet is made of metal, with a brass loop. The double leaf is made of
fabric (satin silk). The obverse is painted in gouache, the reverse is
woven with tonal stripes.
The obverse is particularly original. Besides
an architectural element on which is written: "Couvent des Capucins - Salle
Pérot, 27 avril 1881", a Capuchin monk, a rosary around his neck, his head
buried under his cap, holds in his right hand a crucifix. The left hand is in a move that seems designed to push (more than to bless) a swarm of
ten fantastic creatures, appearing in a luminous cloud. On the left, closest to the monk is a quadruped with a long neck and, apparently, two oblong breasts pointed skyward. At the center, another being is like a dark spider with four legs. At the right is another bipedal long nosed and wide eyed monster, with a tail and a crest but without visible wings. Above is a crowd of seven flying creatures. A couple of them vaguely resemble birds, the others being completely fantastic.
We have never seen such a fan!
was featured some years ago on sale, failing to attract bidders, perhaps
because of his strange character, and of a description, true perhaps, but which was
all the more worrying. Lucie
Saboudjian, expert, whose (at least in terms of fans) experience is
long and competence widely recognized, had in fact titled this lot "Le Capucin diabolique" (the
diabolical Capuchin). She described: "a Capuchin invoking the succubus." That, in our view, was enough to decrease the number of bidders, most of them being respectable undevilish ladies! But,
of course, this was a humorous notation meant to relax the sales room,
as our own words only want to entertain our visitors.
But what indeed are the Succubus? We do not hardly met in 2016, it seems; at least do not we recognize them. The etymology is accessible to the beginner Latin scholar since the word is formed of sub (under) and cubare (to sleep, or to lay on). The
Oxford dictionary online gives the following definition: "A female demon believed to have sexual intercourse with sleeping men". Note that in French sucubuses are male. The
French Academy, in its 1718 dictionnary wrote:..
"Succubus, masculine substantive. They are called the devil, when, in the opinion of some people, they take the form of a woman to have carnal company of a man". The
Academy linked the word with its antonym "Incubus", whose definition
was " Sort of demon that, following a popular error, abuse of women." We
leave our readers specialists of gender studies think about the
differences between these two definitions. In our opinion, devils,
being fallen angels, are asexual.
Anyways we do not see here, unfortunately, lovely young women but, probably, the demons before they take on this prettier appearance. But how ist it possible to confirm this statement? It is indisputable that the monk depicted on the fan wears a garment used by the monks of the Franciscan family (founded by Saint Francis of Assisi, dear to Pope Francis, who borrowed his name). The Capuchins are characterized by the use of the cap which, by its color and the fact that sometimes their bure includes a white part has given its name to the famous cappuccino. Without a doubt, as proved by the comparison with a Zurbaran's painting showing the saint, the monk depicted here is a Capuchin. We see besides him his floating girdle, whose nodes recall the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The second would be greatly compromised by the action of succubus...
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
Inventory number: 011528-000
Does the Capuchin on the fan invoke succubi (if they are succubi: remember that to fool the men they take more attractive forms!!!). We would think he rather repels them, before he succumbed to the charms of their avatars ... or after. Maybe, his "Vade retro, Satanas" accompanied by the gesture of the hand and the presentation of the crucifix would bring the return of the devils to their real form, of nature, it must be said, to deter anybody from sins of the flesh.
Why this scene on a fan ?
Whatever is the interpretation given to this scene, how the hell (dare we
say) do we find it on a hand fan, a feminine object more often crowded with putti, ancient deities or matrimonial biblical scenes than with demons and Franciscans?
must, of course, place us on the date of the fan: 1881. In that late
nineteenth century, science thought about to vanquish all
superstitions, but sometimes in fact stays close to them. Jean-Baptiste Charcot (1822-1893) reached that year consecration. By studying hysteria, he opened the way for Freud, but also attracted criticism. In Magnétismes, in 1882, the Frencch well-known author Guy de Maupassant called Charcot a "laboratory breeder
of histerics (...) to whom he inoculates madness and, in no time, makes them demonic". At this moment, in Europe, in parallel with spiritualism (serious people are
turning the tables, invoke the spirits and make the dead speak), a
Satanist current grows. To
stick to France, one can evoke Les Diaboliques by Barbey d'Aurevilly, a novel
published in 1874 but confiscated by judgment, and republished in 1882. The French Novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans will highlight Satanism in his novel Là-Bas (1891). The
historical case of Gilles de Rais (a source for Bluebeard) allows the novelist to address
contemporary manifestations (black masses, esoteric Kabbalah,
here that it is in this darkness that Huysmans began thinking... And this led
him back to the Catholic faith, followed by a number of
intellectuals of the time. Perhaps, the Capuchin of the fan has managed also to drive out his demons?
To bring more meaning to this fan, we must take an interest in the
inscription: "Couvent des Capucins - Salle Pérot,
27 avril 1881".
"Salle Pérot" (Pérot Hall) is difficult to locate precisely because it has certainly
gone, and we find for it various addresses: 20, rue Ordener, 5, bd de la
Chapelle, 29, rue Riquet. All those streets ar are north of the popular
district of the Goutte d'Or in Paris, in the vicinity of railroad tracks, with street numbers that have
changes and a urban scenery which has continuously evolved since 1881 despite the constance of some
This Salle Pérot is known as a place of political and trade union activities. It
is known that there existed a Blanquist club in 1870, led by the
revolutionary, free-thinker and a Freemason Théophile Ferré (shot in
his diary, mentioning her action during the Commune of Paris, the
famous Louise Michel writes, about "vigilance committees" in revolutionary
Montmartre: "In the evening, I found mean to be present at both clubs since
that of women,
rue de la Chapelle, at the local Tribunal, opened the first. So we
could after attend to half of the sitting at the Salle Pérot, sometimes
the entire session. Both were wearing the name "Club de la Revolution, district des Grandes Carrières."
During railway strikes in 1910, this hall played also its role, since
according to newspaper Le Petit Parisien on Monday, October 10, 1910, "The
strikers from depots, that held no meetings yesterday, are convened
this morning at six o'clock, Salle Pérot, 20, rue Ordener. " On month before,
as the panel beneath shows, the Socialist Party organized there a
meeting in favour of birth control, "Free Love" and "Free Motherhood".
It seems this Salle Pérot had a link with a "Salle Garrigues", where "the citizens of Clichy met on May 17, 1903, in the 'grande Salle Garrigues', a number of 600 under the chairmanship of Mr. Mascuraud, and said they no longer want to pay the priests and claim the separation of Church and State, the complete secularization of the Republic ". Shortly after it will be the headquarters of the newspaper L'Anarchie, which will house for a time the Belgian-Russian Victor Serge, a French speaking revolutionary and writer.
To make it short, this "Salle Pérot" has of course never sheltered a Capuchin convent, but definitely welcomed many activists and revolutionary syndicalists, socialists, freethinkers or anarchists.
But what happened there on 27 April 1881?
Some words about the fanmaker Kees
This is not the place for telling the history of Kees. In 2005, it was the subject of an exhibition at the regretted Musée de l'Eventail in Paris, with a booklet by Georgina Letourmy. But since this fan wears on its reverse the signature of Ernest Kees, we take this opportunity to say a few words.
First, how should we pronounce that name? It is common under the influence of the domination of the Anglo-American language, to hear people saying "Kiss" (mostly by French, Anglo-Saxon people lengthening the two "e" syllable). The fanmaker Sylvain Le Guen, at the time still not a "maître d'art" and the head of a Parisian "Maison", but already talented, played with this pronunciation to make the pleasant fan we show below.
However, the pronunciation could actually be only "Kess" because of the German origin of the family (that we have indicated some years ago in the © Wikipedia article dedicated to Kees). We can take for proof the "editorial publicity" reproduced above. It was published in a Livre d'Or des Fiançailles & du
Mariage, some time after Ernest Kees had sold his business to Alfred Marie, installed in 1890 at 9, boulevard des Capucines. And as we see, even the spelling of Kees turned into Kess... which would have been absurd if the pronunciation was "Kiss"!
But to return to our "diabolical Capuchin fan," we'll just watch the beautiful signature on the reverse. As it should be, since the fan is dated 1881, the address of Ernest Kees is still at 28, rue du Quatre Septembre.
Questions to our dear friends and visitors
As usual, these questions are real questions that we can not answer, in spite of our research.
1) What has happened April 27th, 1881 in the Salle Pérot?
2) The handwritten signature of Ernest Kees (rather a talented painter, it is said) on the verso of the fan is more elaborate than often. May it be a sign that he would be the author of the painting on the obverse ?
3) Have you ever seen (and where) the surreal or surrealistic creatures that adorn this item?
Please have the kindness of responding (or giving any question or notice) by the link provided in the site's home page. We will not fail to thank you, and to share your finds, as soon as they move us towards truth.
Many people have expressed their
opinions, either by email or on Facebook, via your servant page (https://www.facebook.com/pierrehenri.biger) or those of the Fan Circle International (https://www.facebook.com/fan.circle?fref=ts) CI or Collesionisti of Ventagli (https://www.facebook.com/groups/104785799621603/?fref=ts) and we thank them heartily.
For the moment,
1) many of you see a spout under the hood of the Capuchin, and many
also note that the hands and one foot, under the bure, appear with
claws. This would make the Capuchin himself a diabolical creature. To
be honest, we ourselves had that feeling, but not to influence our
visitors, had preferred to say nothing;
2) Aldo Dente, an Italian recognized fans specialist, noticed that the crucifix seems held upside down, reinforcing the idea of a satanic ritual;
3) our friend Gerald Gould, husband of Sylvie (an emeritus hand fans
collector) think the painter used hallucinogenic substances, and
several correspondents mention a relationship with Bosch. Another found
that the black spider creature in the foreground does not seem from the
same hand than the rest; but, looking at the fan in hand, we believe
that this impression comes from que position of this creature backlight
to the bright cloud.
4) Although no one can unfortunately find there a direct link, Dr. Alice Labourg (Rennes 2 University), whose thesis was on The pictorial imagination in Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe, made a wise reference to the works of this kind, particularly with The Monk by GW Lewis.
"evil" hypothesis taking shape, even as a parody or a caricature, but
definitely anticlerical, we will add that this subject was fashionable
since the publication in 1875 by Isidore Liseux (himself defrocked,
Latin scholar, editor and known for his militant atheism) of the
translation of a manuscript by Father Ludovico Maria Sinistrari
(1632-1701) : De la Démonialité et
des animaux incubes et succubes où l'on prouve qu'il existe sur terre
des créatures raisonnables autres que l'homme, ayant comme lui un corps
et une âme, naissant et mourant comme lui, rachetées par N. S.
Jésus-Christ et capables de salut et de damnation. This book,
which seems genuine, speak especially of reality and nature of
succubus and incubus (which would not be demons but animals...).
Let us add that by
ourselves, we found mention in various histories of Paris Streets or
Montmartre, of a "Bal Perot" located rue de La Chapelle, which in all
likelihood gave way to the "Salle" of the same name. This change would
have been quite easily : if one believes the newspaper L'Union Monarchique du Finistère (Saturday, March 22, 1884), political meetings often ended in ball (see the picture).
Our fan may have belonged to this mixed category.
Alas, all this still does not answer our questions. So thank you for your support, past, present and future!
Let us end by pointing out an obvious kinship: that of Robertson's phantasmagorias
: those projections of magic lanterns with ghosts, phantoms and
mysterious creatures took place in 1799 in the former Capuchin convent
of the Rue Saint Honoré in Paris. Chateaubriand wrote: "The community
of the Capuchins is sacked, the inner cloister serves as a retreat for
Robertson's phantasmagoria." But this is a subject we will probably
come back to one day, about another hand fan.