Intricately carved and painted ivory fans were among the most highly desired items exported from China to the United States in the mid- to late-eighteenth century. Martha Washington is known to have been particularly fond of fans, purchasing at least 28 for herself between 1755 and 1793. This example, likely acquired during George Washington's presidency, features a shield-shaped cartouche depicting the triumph of Liberty, who is personified as a young woman in classical dress carrying a pole with a Phrygian cap.


Elephant ivory fan comprised of twenty-eight elaborately carved and painted ribs, or "sticks," shielded by two carved guards at either end; the ribs and guardsticks have rounded tops that gently taper towards the shoulder, then swell slightly through the top of the gorge to terminate in a tear-drop shape; the ribs and guardsticks are held together at that point by an iron rivet with copper heads and mother-of-pearl washers; the ribs were originally connected by a white silk ribbon that ran through a slit in each rib, but only the warp of the ribbon remains; the guardsticks are intricately carved and feature three-dimensional designs of leafy and flowering vines, birds, and large flower buds; the reverse of the guardsticks are flat; the tips of the ribs contain a blooming flower and vine within a beaded edge; separating the tip from the face of the fan is a solid band of ivory that is pierced with a single slit; the ground of the fan's face is decorated with meandering carvings of leafy and flowering vines and birds, the space between each rendered bud, stem, and bird is filled with pierced vertical lines that run the length of the guardstick; in the center of the face is a shield-shaped cartouche with a watercolor that features five allegorical figures: Liberty, a young woman in classical dress holding the liberty pole topped with a Phrygian cap, sits on a tiered dais, whilst an unidentified woman, solider, American Indian, and cleric petition for her attention; the cartouche is embellished with a scrolling pediment highlighted in gilt, the whole outlined in royal ermine; on the reverse of the cartouche is a watercolor of a bouquet of flowers tied with a blue ribbon; the shoulder of the ribs are embellished with a semi-circular array of eight flower petals, the gorge is filled with meandering carvings of leafy and flowering vines and birds; the space between each is also filled with pierced vertical lines; the reverse of the sticks are flat.


c. 1790



Ivory, silk, gilt, watercolors, iron, copper, mother of pearl


Overall: 10 1/8 in. x 16 1/2 in. x 1 1/8 in. (25.73 cm x 41.91 cm x 2.87 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Mrs. Charles A. Conrad, 1894

Object Number


Colors (Beta)

Mount Vernon's object research is ongoing and information about this object is subject to change. For information on image use and reproductions, click here.
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