Dating to 1985, Ceres' Fan belongs to a group of works that were inspired by a trip to Egypt that Riley made in the winter of 1979-80.
'During that trip she visited the Nile Valley and the museum at Cairo, and was able to study, at first hand, the tombs of the later Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. Riley was astonished by the art she found in these ancient burial sites carved out of rock and located deep in the earth. These sacred places were dedicated to the dead, yet the tomb decoration was a vivid evocation of life and light. Though their creators had used only a limited number of colours - red, blue, yellow, turquoise, green, black and white - the walls of the chambers receded behind images in which could be seen a bustling affirmation of everyday existence ... As she began to explore this new, so-called 'Egyptian palette', it was clear that radical structural changes to her work would be required. Though limited in number, the admission of a range of intense colours needed a formal vehicle that was simpler than the curve she had been using for the last six years. For this reason, she had now returned to the more neutral stripe ... The stripe paintings made between 1980 and 1985 reveal a progressive structural reorganisation and in that sense they are an important watershed in Riley's work. They form a passage from the perceptual - optically mediated - character of her art before 1980, to her work from the early 1980s onwards which addresses pure sensation directly: visual experience as a direct response to its source' (see P. Moorhouse, Exhibition catalogue, Bridget Riley, London, Tate Britain, 2003, p. 22).
Initially Riley worked with black and white stripes for example in Bright Day (sold in these rooms, 4 June 2004, lot 113, £122,850), which punctuate the painting. She then produced works firstly without black and then without white as in the present work. John Elderfield comments, 'The daring but logical next step was to chromatize the white - although this would open the way to overturning the limits of Riley's Egyptian palette - by replacing it with lilac in 1984, in such works as Samarra (Private collection, London). This lilac had somehow always been implicit in the series of paintings, induced by them but awaiting its realization. As a result, the painting solely, dangerously, comprises three pairs of complimentaries. Thus, more weight than ever before is placed on the actual chromatic composition. Just as the perceptual activity takes place in opposition to the graphic field, so the freedom of the colour composition takes place in opposition to the stability of the complementary contrasts. The relationship of actual and induced colour in Riley's paintings is now matched by that between the actual chromatic quality of colour, on the one hand, and the spatial and other attendant qualities that colour can induce, on the other. In consequence, the perceptual is flooded more deeply with affective sensations than ever before, with a myriad of recognitions of sensations, one breaking over the next' (Exhibition catalogue, Bridget Riley Reconnaissance, New York, Dia Center for the Arts, 2000, p. 42).