PAIR OF FANS (PANKHA)
Place of Origin: MADRAS (modern-day Chennai), INDIA
Date: 19th - Early 20th Century
Top Fan: 650mm x 480mm (25 ½ x 18 3/3 inches)
Bottom Fan (with inscription): 690mm x 510mm (27 ¼ x 20 inches)
An historical and lavishly decorated pair of fans (or ‘pankha’ in Hindi) once owned by Arthur Lawley, 6th Baron Wenlock, GCSI, GCIE, KCMG (12th November 1860 – 14th June 1932).
The first fan is painted on one face to depict a dazzling array of blossoming poppies, peonies and other flowerheads in red and purple amidst scrolling green vines, all outlined with gold paint. At the base of the fan is its red-painted handle (this colour continuing around the brim), above which is painted a stylised golden dhu’l faqar sword with large and extravagant mouldings at the hilt and a broad blade bifurcated at the final third of its length, depicted on a green ground and enclosed by a lobed arch with bands of geometric decoration in gold and green. The sword reappears on the reverse of the fan, though on a crimson background, and the main surface is occupied not only with flowerheads and curling leaves in gold but also with two majestic peacocks, their symmetry highlighted by the vertical series of flowerheads that line the fan’s centre.
The first face of the second fan corresponds with appropriate flare, as each of the indents created by the fan’s blades are painted to depict an individual peacock feather – the shape of the fan satisfyingly mirroring the shape of the bird’s tail itself. The reverse reveals a symmetrical arrangement of brightly coloured flowerheads and foliage on a variety of grounds: pink, sky-blue, gold-flecked red and green, and white at the centre panel.
The gold-painted inscription at the red base gives these fans their context: “The Hon. Sir Arthur Lawley / K.C.M.G., G.C.I.E. / Governor”. Lawley was made Governor of Madras on 28th December 1905 and kept the position until 3rd November 1911, his eldest brother Beilby Lawley, 3rd Baron Wenlock, having previously held the post from 1891 to 1896. Increasing nationalist agitation spread to Madras in around 1907, and saw Lawley introduce the Morley-Minto reforms to the region towards the end of 1908, providing the government of Madras with its first Indian representation (the Maharaja of Bobbili being the first Indian to be given membership of the Executive).
The fans were probably given to Lawley as part of a ceremonial gesture of gratitude, but pinpointing their precise place of manufacture is difficult. Shapes, sizes, colour schemes and styles vary greatly across India – surprising evidence for such a claim coming from the Indian Ministry of Communications, who on 30th December 2017 had sufficiently varied examples of this artistic tradition to issue a commemorative set of postage stamps all depicting different forms of the painted handfan from different parts of the country. We may, however, look to an example preserved at the British Museum (Museum Number As1960,10.91), the scallop-shaped form of which mostly resembles that of the present example, and which also originates from Madras.
Formerly in the Collection of Eustace Gibbs, 3rd Baron Wraxall, KCVO, CMG.
 Charles Herman Heimsath, Indian Nationalism and Hindu Social Reform, Princeton University Press, 2015, p.262.