Manet and the Language of Fans

Morisot_manetbalconydetailI’ll admit it, if there were a Page 6 in the 19th Century, I’d be writing it. Having spent years trying to determine the date and circumstances of the commencement of the affair between Claude Monet and the wife of his patron Ernest Hoschede, I have spent more than my share of time digging dirt.  It is inevitable that I would come across “dirt” on other artists, or at least rather interesting circumstantial evidence.

That Monet’s friend Manet, had more than a passing interest in Berthe Morisot is common knowledge. In a previous post [Manet’s Secret Love] I talked about what evidence of their relationship could be determined from his choice of flowers depicted with her.  Recently I discovered that he may have left more clues for us.

Evidently in the 19th Century the equivalent of text messaging was accomplished with the flick of a fan. Just as we know the meaning of OMG and WTF, in Monet’s day a  full array of messages could be read in the position of a fan, whether it was open, closed, held to the lips, or held to the heart.

Edouard Manet, "The Bunch of Violets", 1872

Edouard Manet, “The Bunch of Violets”, 1872

When you extract the paintings Manet did of Morisot, three out of eleven have fans in them. And if you include the tribute to her in the small painting of violets and a letter, it is four paintings.  He shows her holding a closed fan in his masterpiece, “The Balcony”, covering her face; and resting casually next to her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In one painting he shows Morisot touching the ribs of the fan. This was sometimes used as a means to indicate when a meeting between two lovers might be safe.

By contrast, Manet never painted his wife with a fan. For her, he reserved a whole other set of symbols.


THE LANGUAGE OF THE FAN

1) THE FAN PLACED NEAR THE HEART:”You have won my love.”

2) A CLOSED FAN TOUCHING THE RIGHT EYE: “When may I be allowed to see you?”

3) THE NUMBER OF STICKS SHOWN ANSWERED THE QUESTION: At what hour?”

4) THREATENING MOVEMENTS WITH A FAN CLOSED: Do not be so imprudent”

5) HALF-OPENED FAN PRESSED TO THE LIPS: “You may kiss me.”

6) HANDS CLASPED TOGETHER HOLDING AN OPEN FAN: “Forgive me.”

7) COVERING THE LEFT EAR WITH AN OPEN FAN: “Do not betray our secret.”

8) HIDING THE EYES BEHIND AN OPEN FAN: “I love you.”

9) SHUTTING A FULLY OPENED FAN SLOWLY: “I promise to marry you.”

10) DRAWING THE FAN ACROSS THE EYES: “I am sorry.”

11) TOUCHING THE FINGER TO THE TIP OF THE FAN: “I wish to speak with you.”

12) LETTING THE FAN REST ON THE RIGHT CHEEK: “Yes.”

13) LETTING THE FAN REST ON THE LEFT CHEEK: “No.”

14) OPENING AND CLOSING THE FAN SEVERAL TIMES: “You are cruel”

15) DROPPING THE FAN: “We will be friends.”

16) FANNING SLOWLY:”I am married.”

17) FANNING QUICKLY:”I am engaged.”

18) PUTTING THE FAN HANDLE TO THE LIPS: “Kiss me.”

19) OPENING A FAN WIDE: “Wait for me.”

20) PLACING THE FAN BEHIND THE HEAD: “Do not forget me”

21) PLACING THE FAN BEHIND THE HEAD WITH FINGER EXTENDED: “Goodbye.”

22) FAN IN RIGHT HAND IN FRONT OF FACE: Follow me.”

23) FAN IN LEFT HAND IN FRONT OF FACE: “I am desirous of your acquaintance.”

24) FAN HELD OVER LEFT EAR: “I wish to get rid of you.”

25) DRAWING THE FAN ACROSS THE FOREHEAD:”You have changed.”

26) TWIRLING THE FAN IN THE LEFT HAND: “We are being watched.”

27) TWIRLING THE FAN IN THE RIGHT HAND:”I love another.”

28) CARRYING THE OPEN FAN IN THE RIGHT HAND:”You are too willing.”

29) CARRYING THE OPEN FAN IN THE LEFT HAND: “Come and talk to me.”

30) DRAWING THE FAN THROUGH THE HAND: “I hate you!”

31) DRAWING THE FAN ACROSS THE CHEEK: “I love you!”

32) PRESENTING THE FAN SHUT: “Do you love me?”

Some Books of Interest:

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Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at IndieBound.org

 

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Manet’s Secret Love

Edouard Manet, "The Bunch of Violets", 1872

Edouard Manet, “The Bunch of Violets”, 1872

Manet gave this small painting to Berthe Morisot. It contains a letter, the fan she held in his famous painting, “The Balcony”, and a bunch of violets.

Edouard Manet, "The Balcony", 1868-69

Edouard Manet, “The Balcony”, 1868-69

There has always been speculation about the relationship between Manet and Morisot. Manet, of course, was married to Suzanne Leenhoff, his former piano tutor. The circumstances of that marriage are also clouded. It is now believed that she was actually the mistress of Manet’s father, and when she became pregnant, Manet married her to spare the family embarrassment. Leenhoff’s son was at times passed off as her brother (ironic, when he may have, in fact, been Manet’s half-brother). He always referred to Manet as “godfather” and not “father”.  Manet never admitted paternity.

There is no mistaking for whom the painting of violets was intended, as both Morisot’s and Manet’s names appear on the letter in the painting. Ah, but what about the violets?

Edouard Manet, "Berthe Morisot with a Bunch of Violets", 1872

Edouard Manet, “Berthe Morisot with a Bunch of Violets”, 1872

Violet’s are a flower with which Morisot was identified.  Here she wears a violet corsage. But the violets have another meaning. In 1818 Madam Charlotte de la Tour wrote Le Langage des Fleurs, the language of flowers. In it, a meaning was assigned to every flower. Each bouquet carried a very specific message. They could indicate everything from the time of a secret assignation to the intricacies of one’s emotions.

A couple of years ago I made a trip to Tourette, France, which is known for violets the way Grasse is known for lavender. In the tourist office in one of their brochures I read that the meaning of violets in Le Langage des Fleurs  is “a secret love”.

 

 

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