More than any other Impressionist and probably more than any artist since Courbet and Millet, Pissarro understood the hard life of the peasantry, and he celebrated its virtues without romanticising their toil. Indeed, Pissarro envisioned his vocation as an artist as being analogous to the unrelenting routine of the peasant; there was the need to apply oneself through determination and discipline, to understand the rhythms of nature and to undertake each task in its proper time. Pissarro's approach to creativity was not that of the isolated and brooding genius; instead he saw himself as a member of a community of like-minded individuals warking towards a common goal.
As Thédore Duret wrote to him in 1873, 'I still believe that rustic nature, with its fields and animals, is what best suits your talent. You do not have Sisley's decorative feeling, or Monet's fantastic eye, but you have what they don't have: an intimate and deep feeling for nature as well as a powerful brushstroke, so that a beautiful picture by you is something with an absolute presence... Go your own way, towards rural nature: thus you will explore a new avenue, and will go further and higher than any master' (quoted in J. Pissarro, Camille Pissarro, New York, 1993, p. 143).
The fan shape Pissarro employed in La gardeuse d'oies can be placed in the larger context of the japonisme movement, when many segments of Parisian avant-garde found inspiration in the Japanese prints and decorative arts that began to circulate in the early 1860s. As Christopher Lloyd writes of this body of work, 'For Pissarro, the adoption of the fan as an art form came at a critical time, namely the close of the 1870s. To a certain extent the fan may have assisted Pissarro in his search for compositional unity. The emphasis that had to be placed on the two corners of the fan meant that the figures were given prominence against the background... Pissarro also showed considerable originality in this format...' (C. Lloyd, Pissarro, London, 1980, p. 235).