Fans Related to Napoleon Bonaparte

The popularity of fans coincided with Napoleon Bonaparte’s popularity of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. In fact, there were numerous fans related to Napoleon, and in France, “of the two hundred engravings deposited in the Biblothéque Nationale in … [1796] a hundred and fourteen were fan-designs mostly in praise of Napoleon.”[1] These fans also depicted all sorts of activities related to his life.

One early fan for Napoleon was a wooden fan after he married Josephine de Beauharnis on 9 March 1796. The city of Paris ordered that a special stipple fan (below) be printed that shows Napoleon in the center being crowned with an oak wreath by “Abundance” and “Immortality.” On either side, allegories of “Peace” and “War” are depicted in medallions. The inscription reads, “Dessiné Par Chaudet, Fontaine et Persier; Gravé Par Godefroy” indicating that it was drawn by Antoine Denis Chaudet, Charles Percier, and Pierre Fontaine and engraved by Jean Godefroy.

fans related to Napoleon - special fan

Special fan ordered by the city of Paris. Courtesy of Fan d’évetails.

Another fan related to Napoleon involves the Château de Malmaison. This was a manor house in the Rueil-Malmaison west of Paris that Josephine purchased for them in April of 1799. It, along with the Tuileries Palace, served as the headquarters for the French government from 1800 to 1802, and, in addition, it was Napoleon’s last residence in France at the end of the Hundred Days in 1815. Malmaison is also where Josephine died in 1814. Because the chateau was a prominent part of Napoleon’s life, it was not surprising that a cabriolet styled fan leaf was created with the central vignette depicting life at the chateau.

Cabriolet style-fan leaf showing Napoleon at Malmaison. Courtesy of The Fan Museum.

After Napoleon was elevated to First Consul on 10 November 1799, proposals of peace flowed in from the allied powers. In celebration, a fan leaf was created that shows him being crowned by “Fame” and “Peace,” while above him the legend reads inside a glory, ‘Paix Gloriues An VI’ (Glorious Peace, Year Six), in reference to the date of the Republican Calendar. Also shown is the personification of the French Republic, who is holding a map of Europe and a tricolor inscribed, ‘Nouvelles Républiques, Règne des Arts, Alliance avec les Français.’ To the left of Napoleon stands “Victory,” who is busy inscribing the names of his generals.

Fan leaf of “Glorious Peace, Year Six.” Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Napoleon loved the island of Isola Bella (beautiful island) and visited it several times around 1799 and 1800. According to the English writer and politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton:

“In the Isola Bella, upon the Lago Maggiore, where the richest vegetation of the topics grows in the vicinity of the Alps, there is a lofty laurel-tree (the bay), tall as the tallest oak, on which a few days before the battle of Marengo, Napoleon carved the word ‘Battaglia.’ The bark has fallen away from the inscription, most of the letters are gone and the few left are nearly effaced.”[2]

Years after Marengo, the Cafe Martin, used Napoleon’s visit to Isola Bella to advertise their New York cafe on a folding fan. On the obverse side of the fan an image shows men and women dressed in Directory costumes and on the reverse side, printed in a monochrome pink color, ribbons and laurel leaves are shown with the words “Cafe Martin, New York” placed in the center.

fans related to Napoleon - advertising fan

Advertising fan for Cafe Martin. Courtesy of The Fan Museum.

During the Napoleonic Wars the Treaty of Amiens was signed on 27 March 1802 by Britain, France, Spain, and the Batavian Republic (the Netherlands). It resulted in fourteen months of peace throughout Europe and encouraged people such as Madame Tussaud and Madame Récamier to visit England during this time. In celebration of the momentous peace treaty, many trinkets were produced. Among them were fans, such as the following one of wood, ivory, and painted paper that shows Napoleon being lauded and crowned for achieving peace and signing the treaty in Amiens.

Fan depicting the Treaty of Amiens. Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (musée des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau) / Gérard Blot.

Napoleon was crowned Emperor of the French on Sunday, 2 December 1804, and, in honor of this glorious event, the famous painter Jacques-Louis David was commissioned by Napoleon in September 1804 to create a painting memorialize the moment. David started work on it on 21 December 1805 and added the final touches in January of 1808. The painting was officially titled, “Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on 2 December 1804.”

Among some of the items that celebrated Napoleon’s crowning were fans, such as the following one created in 1807 that depicted the memorable day. It has a double leaf of chicken skin and the image designed was based on David’s painting that shows Napoleon holding the crown with Josephine kneeling submissively. The sticks and guard are mother-of-pearl and inlaid with gilt spangles, and the guard is pierced down its center and has five graduated gold sequins. In addition, on the reverse side is an asymmetrical floral spray and two insects painted in gold.

Fan depicting Napoleon’s coronation based on Jacques-Louise David’s painting. Courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Although the following folding fan was produced in the 1880s, it depicts an unknown battle scene from the early 1800s during the Napoleonic wars. The center cartouche shows a fight between soldiers with the injured and dead lie helplessly on the ground. On either side of the cartouche, pictures show two soldiers wearing shakos with their swords drawn. On the left is a French Light infantry soldier perhaps wearing a parade dress uniform, and on the right a 1st Empire Grenadier, holding a standard and wearing a shako with the characteristic Imperial Eagle that was chosen by Napoleon in 1804. The monture and guard are silvered and gilded and feature images of swords, guns, and headwear. The verso is plain.

fans related to Napoleon - battle during the Napoleonic Wars

Battle during the Napoleonic Wars. Courtesy of Tennants Auctioneers.

Because Josephine was unable to give Napoleon an heir, he divorced her on 10 January 1810 and married Archduchess Marie Louise by proxy on March 11, 1810 at the Augustinian Church in Vienna. Marie Louise then traveled to France, where, upon arriving, she underwent the same ritual that Marie Antoinette had done when she arrived in 1770: She was stripped of all her clothing from her homeland and redressed in French bridal clothes. Marie Louise then met Napoleon for the first time on 27 March at Compiègne. It was a memorable meeting because he hastened to her carriage and threw himself into her arms:

“The first glance delighted him. That fine young woman, fresh and … full of strength and health, with blonde hair, her blue eyes, her air of innocence and candor, was the wife he wanted, the Empress of his dreams; and the words she said to him flattered and touched him, … ‘You are much better-looking than your portrait.’”[3]

Marie Louise and Napoleon’s civil wedding took place on 1 April 1810 at the Saint Joseph’s Church, and the following day, they traveled to Paris in the coronation coach, with the procession led by his elite Imperial Guards. When the procession arrived at the Tuileries Palace, the Imperial couple were taken to the Salon Carré chapel of the Louvre where a religious ceremony was conducted by the Cardinal Grand Almoner of France.*

The folding fan shown below celebrates their union. It shows Hymen (the Greek god of marriage) holding two torches aloft as the couple exchange their vows in front of an altar surrounded by various dignitaries. Additionally, standing on Napoleon’s side is a woman, who represents the French Empire, and who is holding a shield with the imperial eagle. To the right of Marie Louise is another woman who personifies Austria and holds a shield.

Napoleon and Marie Louise Wedding. Courtesy of Coutau-Bégarie & Associés.

Less than eleven months after Napoleon’s marriage to Marie Louise, she gave birth to his son on 20 March 1811. On the same day, the baby underwent ondoyé (a traditional French ceremony which is considered a preliminary, brief baptism) by Napoleon’s uncle, Cardinal Joseph Fesch. The baby was christened Napoleon Francois Charles Joseph Bonaparte. Another baptism, inspired by the baptismal ceremony of Louis, Grand Dauphin of France, was held a few months later on 9 June 1811. As with other important occasions in Napoleon’s life, the birth of his son, who was known as the King of Rome, was celebrated with a fan leaf that depicts the happy moment.

fans related to Napoleon - birth of the King of Rome

Birth of the King of Rome. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Another fan created in honor of Napoleon is a miniature ivory Brisé fan, which may have been produced for a child. It shows Napoleon and members from his court strolling in the gardens outside a chateau (probably Malmaison), while the verso depicts a rural scene. This fan dates from 1820 and is said to have been finished with Vernis Martin, an imitation lacquer that provided sheen, polish, and translucence. Additionally, at this time, fan retailers sold display cases that could hold several miniature fans so as to encourage buyers to buy more than one fan.

Miniature brisé fan showing Napoleon strolling with members of his court. Courtesy of Tennants Auctioneers.

The last fan shown is thought to be French and produced sometime in the late nineteenth century. The leaf is silk and painted in gouache on a blue background with gilt-silver and a yellow silk embroidered border, along with horn sticks. The obverse shows a cartouche of Napoleon standing alone on a cliff and in the distance is a man next to two white horses. It is signed F. Creven. Perhaps, this scene is meant to depict Napoleon during his exile on St. Helena as it somewhat similar to the watercolor by Franz Josef Sandmann created in 1820. Also shown are four small medallions with a woman’s head and gilt painted vines. On the reverse is a center medallion with the Imperial eagle signed “Alexandre.”

fans related to Napoleon - showing him standing on a cliff

Fan showing Napoleon standing on a cliff. Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Boston.


  • [1] G. W. Rhead, History of the Fan (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1910), p. 228.
  • [2] E. B. Lytton, Dramas and Poems of Edward Bulwer Lytton (Lord Lytton) (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1898), p. 293.
  • [3] I. de Saint-Amand and T. S. Perry, The Happy Days of the Empress Marie Louise (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890), p. 164.

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Leave a Comment