DMA Insight

A Painting in the Palm of Your Hand Exhibition

In 1985 the Dallas Museum of Art received a one-of-a-kind gift of more than 1,400 works from philanthropist Wendy Reves in honor of her late husband, Emery, establishing the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection. In addition to a world-renowned assemblage of impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, her donation of European decorative arts, the area of her particular personal interest, founded the institution's collection in that field. That collection includes an impressive group of 18th-century painted fans, which, because of their delicate nature, are rarely displayed.

However, in the summer of 2007, in the first exhibition selected from the Reves Collection since the death of Wendy Reves in March of that same year, the Dallas Museum of Art presented A Painting in the Palm of Your Hand: 18th-Century Painted Fans from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection. A Painting in the Palm of Your Hand, curated by Dr. Heather MacDonald, The Lillian and James H. Clark Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture, featured a selection of twenty-five fans from the 18th century. They are the fragile relics of the social life of the 1700s and represent, in microcosm, the artistic variety that characterized the period. The exhibition opened with an explanation of the materials and techniques used to make fans and featured fans made of a variety of materials: silk, paper, vellum, and ivory. An early edition of the Encyclopédie, the great compendium of Enlightenment-era knowledge edited by Diderot, was included, allowing visitors to see its illustrations of the process used to make fans in the 18th century. Several fans were shown with magnification to further reveal the painterly techniques used to create these small works of art. The exhibition continued with an exploration of the fans' extraordinary range of imagery.

The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection includes fans decorated with interior genre scenes that offer an intimate glimpse of domestic life, royalist political fans with portraits of King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, and fans with biblical scenes intended to be used while attending church. While most of the fans tend toward bucolic rural imagery, some fans depict the familiar urban landscapes of Paris and Rome. Two of the fans in the collection feature direct adaptations from famous compositions by François Boucher, one of the most prolific and esteemed painters of the century. Like porcelain, tapestry, and snuffboxes, fans offered yet another medium by which the artistic innovations of important painters such as Boucher could be dispersed to a wider public.

Adapted from

Heather MacDonald, A Painting in the Palm of Your Hand, Gallery text, 2007.

Web Resources

Dallas Museum of Art
Read more about the 2007 DMA exhibition A Painting in the Palm of Your Hand.

Fan Association of North America
Watch a demonstration of the language of fans at the 30th Assemblage of the Fan Association of North America.