Paintings are most often rectangular or square, or even round. But how unusual is it to see a painting in the shape of a fan? These two, both in the Impressionist Auction at Sotheby’s in May, are superb examples of Pissarro’s fans.
Before the time of air conditioning, a folding fan was an important accessory for a lady. She could use it to generate a pleasant breeze or to flirt with a stranger. In the 17th and 18th century, fans were decorated with ornate patterns and designs, becoming works of art in their own right. Instead of cutting and folding them to fit the frame of the fan, they were sometimes left flat and framed like paintings.
Among the Impressionists, both Pissarro and Degas made paintings in the shape of fans. Unlike earlier fancy designs, their fans were complete paintings made to fit in the unusual circular shape missing a center. It is interesting to see how Pissarro placed each of the elements to fit within this odd shape. In the fourth Impressionist exhibition, Pissarro exhibited twelve fans, and he continued making fans throughout the 1880s.
The first fan shows a busy market scene, very typical of Pissarro’s work, except it fits perfectly into the odd shape. He uses the lamp-post on the left and the flag pole on the right to divide the space into thirds. On the left, we see the vendors up close, going back and forth to the stalls. In the center, a view of the village in the background and on the right, a woman beside a table filled with china or glass objects for sale. The composition is so perfect that the “hole in the center” is not even noticed.
The second fan, showing women in a field picking peas or beans, is a very special one indeed. This one belonged to Mary Cassatt, who obtained it directly from Pissarro. He uses a different device in this fan, creating a very strong horizon line which causes us to assume that there is a line across the bottom too. Again, the figures on each side are shown close up and those in the center are farther away. He balances the distant village in the right background with the tall trees on the left.
Since fans were most often painted on paper or silk, they are more sensitive to light and are not often put on view in museums. Occasionally, fans will be shown in special exhibitions. So it was a rare opportunity to see these two, both of them superb examples of Pissarro’s artistry.
was among the books exhibited at
Book Expo America in New York last week.
This photo shows it on the top shelf in the center.
Visit the website at www.pissarrosplaces.com
The special discount on purchase of the book is still available to those who visit the website.