Novelty silhouette hand screens

A pair of novelty silhouette hand screens bearing the label of Alphonse Giroux, £4000 at Dominic Winter.

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Not only was François Simon Alphonse Giroux (1776- 1848) an important Parisian manufacturer of luxury furniture and objets d’art and a supplier of artist materials, but the so-called ‘merchant of the princes’ was also at the vanguard of the production of pre-cinema movable devices and photography in Europe.

In 1818 he filed the patent for the kaleidoscope, which he also called the ‘transfigurator’, and in 1833 introduced the animation device known as the phénakistiscope to France. His firm Maison Alphonse Giroux constructed the Giroux Daguerreotype camera in 1839, the first commercially manufactured photographic camera in the world, which was designed by his brother-in-law Louis Daguerre.

The extraordinary pair of Giroux fans sold for £4000 (plus 20% buyer’s premium) by Dominic Winter in South Cerney, Gloucestershire on March 14 were thought to date from the 1820s. To the reverse, both carried Giroux’s engraved label to the upper edge with the address Rue du Coq St. Honoré No. 7.

Novelty silhouette hand screens

The reverse of one of a pair of novelty silhouette hand screens bearing the label of Alphonse Giroux (paper tab pictured).

Each printed cardboard hand screen had a central oval panel covered by cream gauze containing scissor-cut silhouette figures. One depicted a pair of military figures engaging in a duel by swords, the other a woman holding a broom with which she parries a man brandishing fire tongs and shovel. The characters can be made to move via a paper tab.

Adding to their excellent ‘working order’ condition, the fans were rarities. While the saleroom was unable to trace another similar fan either at auction or in an institution collection Mary Kitson, of The Fan Museum, London, pointed ATG to another pair in the Royal Collection that formed part of the 2005 exhibition Unfolding Pictures: Fans in the Royal Collection.

While they have turned ivory rather than wood handles and appear to lack Giroux’s label, they are otherwise identical. The exhibition catalogue suggested the silhouettes may be associated with Augustin Edouart (1789-1861), the fashionable silhouettist who worked in many of the English spa towns and in 1835 published a Treatise on Silhouette Likenesse by Monsieur Edouart.

The characters to the printed surrounds are identified as ‘female spirits’: on the left Joy, holding a jester’s stick; and on the right Luck, holding an umbrella or parasol, come rain or shine. The royal pair were thought to have been acquired by Queen Mary for Frogmore House where they were first recorded in the late 1970s.

Dominic Winter’s pair, which came for sale as part of a small private collection of fans, sold at double the high estimate.