In a letter of October 1891 to his son Lucien, Pissarro had enraptured words about his experiments with fanned-shaped gouaches and watercolours: 'Je sens un courant qui m'est favorable de plus en plus... Vois donc comme mon éventail Le Marché de saint Martin [P.&V. 1618] a été enlevé. Portier aurait pu le vendre 500 francs. Le petit Meyer qui l'a vu en a été enthusiasmé, il croyait que je le vendais 1.000 francs. Je lui ai dit que je puis lui en faire à 400 francs comme marchand. Mon éventail a été acheté par Read, marchand écossais, c'est ce même Read qui vend les Monticelli si cher à Glasgow, je pense' (quoted in Pissarro and Venturi, op. cit., vol. I, p. 303). Having started circa 1879, Pissarro resumed his experiments with fans in 1887, in a moment of financial difficulties - when he was forced to sell a Degas pastel and a Barye bronze of his own personal collection in order to pay for his Parisian stay. Since his early creations, the éventails were very favourably welcomed by dealers and critics alike. Four [P. & V. 1609, 1610, 1611, 1614] of the first series were included in the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition in 1879; Foire de la Saint-Martin, Pontoise (the object of his letter to Lucien) was exhibited in the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881, and in Decemberr 1887 Theo van Gogh included three fans of the 1987 series in his show at Boussod and Valadon in Boulevard Montmartre.
The fans are Pissarro's utterly original contribution to the fashion of japonisme, which was all the rage in the Parisian avant-garde circles since the 1860s. Initiated by the graphic artist Félix Bracquemond, the first to use direct references to Hokusai's Manga volumes in his 1850s prints, the Impressionist artists turned en masse to Japanese books of prints, filled with croquis and sketches dealing with every conceivable aspect of Japanese society and scenery, above all with evocative figure and detail studies. As J. Dufwa points out, 'A few Parisian art and antique dealers specialising in the far East soon awoke to the opportunities offered by the sale of Japanese art and bric à brac... In the 1850s La Porte chinoise, 35 Rue Vivienne and L'Empire chinois, No. 55 in the same street, each became a rendez-vous for artists and littérateurs hunting for things Japanese. A little shop in the Rue de rivoli became well known. It was opened in 1862 by Monsieur and Madame Desoye. They had recently returned from a voyage to Japan bringing a great many tempting things with them. Japan enthusiasts were drawn there like bees to a flower' (Winds from the East. A Study in the Art of Manet, Degas, Monet and Whistler, 1856-86, Stockolm, 1981). Sold in these fashionable boutiques, and, of course, flamboyantly featured in Hokusai's and Hiroshige's prints, the Japanese fans deeply impressed Pissarro. Whilst the influence of the East on Manet, Degas, Monet and Van Gogh is to be seen primarily in the adoption of decorative and flat configurations of colours and lines, Pissaro's reaction to Japanese art is more complex and ambitious. The Japanese fan dictates the shape of the composition, but within the frame of the half-moon Pissarro's feathery brushstrokes create subtle chromatic harmonies, in tune with the most sophisticated Impressionist experiments.