Lovely hand fan celebrating Napoleon’s call for “Freedom of the Seas”

[Untitled hand fan with map of Europe and cartouche of Napoleon mounted on a seaborne chariot.] [Probably Paris, ca. 1800.]
Engraved, hand-colored paper fan mounted on 20 wooden sticks fastened by a mother-of-pearl button, 9 ½”h x 16”w at greatest extent when opened. Slight wear on the fold lines and minor staining, but very good.
$3,500

A lovely and very rare hand fan celebrating Napoleon’s call for “Freedom of the Seas”. Likely issued ca. 1800, following the catastrophic French defeat at the Battle of the Nile (August 1, 1798) and just after his rise to power as First Consul of France following the Coup of 18 Brumaire (Nov. 9-10, 1799).

The fan’s focal point is a large cartouche featuring Napoleon mounted on a seaborne chariot, the body a stylized shell in the rococo fashion and drawn by a pair of hippocampae. Napoleon stands astride a stone arch and bears a large flag with the bilingual motto “Liberté de Mer [/] Libertad de los Mares”. The backdrop is a map of Europe, with major cities indicated, rivers delineated, and national borders highlighted in outline color. The horses and chariot are clearly aimed at the southern coast of Great Britain, while large fleets, presumably French, patrol the waters off the British coast.

The fan is undated but was likely issued ca. 1800, when French naval power was at a low point after losses at the Battle of the Nile. Napoleon and his foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand devised a compensatory strategy, arguing that England violated international law through its domination of the seas. They hoped this argument would motivate neutral forces, including the United States, Sweden, and Russia, to support France against Britain. Of course, just a few years later Napoleon would reverse course and implement the so-called “Continental System”, which sought to close Continental Europe to British trade.

The fan is very rare: A Google search for the motto yields no results, and various English- and French-language searches in the vein of “Napoleon” + “hand fan” turn up but a single, partial, black-and-white image of another example, location unknown. 

In all, a lovely, rare and intriguing cartifact of the Napoleonic era.

Offered in partnership with Geographicus Antique Maps.