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Haystacks is the title of a series of impressionist paintings by Claude Monet. The primary subjects of all of the paintings in the series are stacks of hay that have been stacked in the field after the harvest season. The title refers primarily to a twenty-five canvas series (Wildenstein Index Number 1266-1290) begun the autumn of 1890 and continued through the following spring, using that year's harvest. Some use a broader definition of the title to refer to other paintings by Monet with this same theme. The series is known for its thematic use of repetition to show differences in perception of light across various times of day, seasons, and types of weather. The subjects were painted in fields near Monet's home in Givernymarker, Francemarker.

The series is among Monet's most notable works. Although the largest collections of Monet's work are held in Parismarker at the Musée d'Orsaymarker and Musée Marmottan Monetmarker, Bostonmarker, Massachusettsmarker at the Museum of Fine Artsmarker, New York Citymarker at the Metropolitan Museummarker and Museum of Modern Artmarker and Tokyomarker at the National Museum of Western Artmarker, six of the twenty-five haystacks pieces are currently housed at the Art Institute of Chicagomarker in Chicagomarker, Illinoismarker, United Statesmarker. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, United Statesmarker holds two, and The Louvremarker in Parismarker, Francemarker holds one. Other museums that hold parts of this series in their collection include the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticutmarker (which also has one of five from the earlier 1888-9 harvest), National Gallery of Scotlandmarker in Edinburghmarker, Scotlandmarker, United Kingdommarker, Minneapolis Institute of Artsmarker in Minneapolismarker, Minnesotamarker, United States, Kunsthaus Zürichmarker in Zürichmarker, Switzerlandmarker, and Shelburne Museummarker, Shelburnemarker, Vermontmarker, United States. Several private collections also hold Haystack paintings.

Monet background

Monet settled in Givernymarker in 1883. Most of his paintings from 1883 until his death 40 years later were of scenes within of his home. Indeed, the haystacks themselves were situated just outside his door. He was intensely aware of and fascinated by the visual nuances of the region’s landscape and the variation in the seasons.

Monet had already painted the same subject in different moods. However, as he matured as a painter, his depictions of atmospheric influences were increasingly concerned not only with specific effects, but with overall color harmonies that allowed for an autonomous use of rich color. The conventional wisdom was that the compact, solid haystacks were both a simple subject and an unimaginative one. However, contemporary writers and friends of the artist noted that Monet's subject matter was always carefully chosen, the product of careful thought and analysis. Monet undertook a study of capturing their vibrance under direct light, and juxtaposing the same subject from the same view in more muted atmospheric conditions. It was not unusual for Monet to alter the canvases back in his studio, in search of harmonious transitions within the series.

Series background

The stacks depicted herein are variously referred to as haystacks and grainstacks. The stacks emblematized the Normandy region of France by emphasizing the beauty and prosperity of the countryside. The haystacks functioned as storage facilities that preserved the wheat until stalk and chaff could be more efficiently separated. The Norman method of storing hay was to use hay as a cover to shield ears of wheat from the elements until they could be threshed. The threshing machines traveled from village to village. Thus, although the wheat was harvested in July it often took until March for all the farms to be reached. These stacks became common in the mid 19th century. This method survived for 100 years, until the inception of combine harvesters. Although shapes of stacks were regional, it was common for them to be round in the Paris basin and the region of Normandy in which Giverny is situated.

Monet noticed this subject on a casual walk. He requested that his stepdaughter Blanche Hoschedé bring him two canvases. He believed that one canvas for overcast weather and one for sunny weather would be sufficient. However, he realized he could not demonstrate the several distinct impressions on one or two canvases. As a result, his willing helper was quickly carting as many canvases as a wheelbarrow could hold. His daily routine involved carting paints, easels, and many unfinished canvases and working on whichever canvas most closely resembled the scene of the moment as conditions fluctuated. Although he began painting realistic depictions en plein air, he eventually revised initial effects in a studio to both generate contrast and preserve the harmony within the series.

Monet produced numerous Haystack paintings. His earlier landscapes (Wildenstein Index Number 900-995, 1073) had included haystacks in an ancillary manner. Monet had also produced five paintings (Wildenstein Index Numbers 1213-1217) with haystacks as the primary subject during the 1888 harvest. The general consensus is that only the canvases produced using the 1890 harvest (Wildenstein Index Number 1266-1290) comprise the haystacks series proper. However, some include several additional paintings when referencing this series. For example, Hill-Stead Museum discusses their two serial haystack or grainstack paintings even though one is from the 1890 harvest and the other is from the 1888 harvest.

This series is one of Monet's earliest that relied on thematic repetition to illustrate nuances in perception across natural variation such as times of day, seasons, and types of weather. For Monet, the concept of producing and exhibiting a series of paintings related by subject and vantage point began in 1889, with at least ten paintings done at the Valley of the Creuse, and subsequently shown at the Galerie Georges Petit. This interest in the serial motif would continue for the rest of his career.

Thematic issues

Although the mundane subject was constant throughout this series, the underlying theme may be seen as the transience of light. This concept enabled him to use repetition to show nuances of perception as seasons, time of day, and weather changes. The constant subject provided the basis from which comparisons could be made in changes of light across this nuanced series. The first paintings in the series were started in late September or early October 1890, and he continued producing these paintings for about seven months. These paintings made Monet the first painter to paint such a large quantity of pictures of the same subject matter differentiated by light, weather, atmosphere and perspective.

Beginning in the 1880s and 1890s, Monet focused on Haystacks and a number of other subjects (other series included the Mornings on the Seinemarker, Poplars, Rouen Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, and the Water Lilies, among others). In order to work on many paintings virtually simultaneously, he would awake before dawn so as to begin at the earliest time of day:

As the morning progressed and the light changed he would switch to sequentially later canvas settings, sometimes working on as many as ten or twelve paintings a day, each one depicting a slightly different aspect of light. The process would be repeated over the course of days, weeks, or months, depending on the weather and the progress of the paintings, until they were completed. As the seasons changed the process was renewed.

Certain effects of light only last for a few minutes, thus the canvases documenting such ephemera received attention for no more than a few minutes a day. Further complicating matters, the light of subsequent sunrises, for example, could alter substantially, and would require separate canvases within the series. Subsequently, different hues are evident in each painting, and in each work color is used to describe not only direct but reflected light. At differing times of day and in various seasons haystacks absorb the light from diverse parts of the color spectrum. As a result, the residual light that is reflected off of the haystacks is seen as ever-changing, and manifests in distinctive coloring.

Many notable painters have been influenced by this particular series including Les Fauves, Derain and Vlaminck. Kandinsky's memoirs refer to the series: “What suddenly became clear to me was the unsuspected power of the palette, which I had not understood before and which surpassed my wildest dreams.”
The Haystacks series was a financial success. Fifteen of these were exhibited by Durand-Ruel in May 1891, and every painting sold within days. The exhibit met with great public acclaim. Octave Mirbeau described Monet's daring series as representing "what lies beyond progress itself." Others described the grainstacks as "faces of the landscape," and viewers seemed to take assurance that the series would help preserve rural traditions despite industrialization and urbanization. They represented the countryside as a retreat from daily problems and home for contentment with nature. Camille Pissarro said "These canvases breathe contentment." Most of the paintings sold immediately for as much as 1,000 francs. Additionally, Monet’s prices in general began to rise steeply. As a result, he was able to buy outright the house and grounds at Givernymarker and to start constructing a waterlily pond. After years of mere subsistence living he was able to enjoy success.

The series demonstrates his intense study of light and atmospheric conditions and Monet was a perfectionist in his renderings. Monet destroyed more than one series of paintings that he found wanting. However, this series escaped his own harsh self-criticism and destruction.

1890-1891 series

Image:Claude Monet, Grainstacks in the Sunlight, Morning Effect, 1890, oil on canvas 65 x 100 cm.jpg|Grainstacks in the Sunlight, Morning Effect, 1890. Oil on canvas. Private collection.Image:Claude Monet - Meules, milieu du jour.jpg|Haystacks, (Midday), 1890-91, National Gallery of AustraliamarkerImage:Wheatstacks (End of Summer), 1890-91 (190 Kb); Oil on canvas, 60 x 100 cm (23 5-8 x 39 3-8 in), The Art Institute of Chicago.jpg|Wheatstacks (End of Summer), 1890-91. Oil on canvas. Art Institute of ChicagomarkerImage:1270 Wheatstacks, 1890-91, 65.8 x 101 cm, 25 7-8 x 39 3-4 in, The Art Institute of Chicago.jpg|Wheatstacks, 1890-91. Oil on canvas. Art Institute of Chicagomarker.Image:Claude Monet. Haystack. End of the Summer. Morning. 1891. Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris, France.jpg|Haystacks at the End of Summer, Morning Effect, 1891. Oil on canvas. Louvremarker, Paris, Francemarker.Image:Claude Monet, Haystacks on a Foggy Morning, 1891, Oil on canvas.jpg|Haystacks on a Foggy Morning, 1891. Oil on canvas. Private collection.Image:Claude Monet, Haystack, Morning Snow Effect (Meule, Effet de Neige, le Matin), 1891, oil on canvas, 65 x 92 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.jpg|Haystack, Morning Snow Effect (Meule, Effet de Neige, le Matin), 1891. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Bostonmarker.Image:1274 Grainstacks Snow Effect, Meules, effet de neige, 1890-91, 60 x 100cm, Oil on Canvas, Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, CT.jpg|Grainstacks Snow Effect, (Meules, effet de neige), 1890-91. Oil on canvas. Shelburne Museummarker, Shelburne, VT.Image:1278 Wheatstacks (Sunset, Snow Effect), 1890-91, 65.3 x 100.4 cm, 25 11-16 x 39 1-2 in., The Art Institute of Chicago.jpg|Wheatstacks (Sunset, Snow Effect), 1890-91. Oil on canvas. Art Institute of Chicagomarker.Image:1281 Wheatstack (Snow Effect, Overcast day), 1890-91, 66 x 93 cm, 26 x 36 5-8, The Art Institute of Chicago.jpg|Wheatstack (Snow Effect, Overcast day) (Meule, effet de neige, temps couvert), 1890-91. Oil on canvas. Art Institute of Chicagomarker.Image:1283 Wheatstack, 1890-91, 65.6 x 92 cm, 25 13-16 x 36 1-4 in., The Art Institute of Chicago.jpg|Wheatstack, 1890-91. Oil on canvas. Art Institute of Chicagomarker.Image:1284 Wheatstack (Thaw, Sunset), 1890-91, 66 x 93, 26 x 36 5-8 in. The Art Institute of Chicago.jpg|Wheatstack (Thaw, Sunset), 1890-91. Oil on canvas. Art Institute of Chicagomarker.Image:1286 Wheatstack (Sun in the Mist), 1891, 65 x 100 cm; 25 5-8 x 39 3-8 in., Minneapolis Institute of Arts.jpg|Wheatstack (Sun in the Mist), 1891. Oil on canvas. Minneapolis Institute of Artsmarker.Image:Image Meule, effet de gelee blanche (Grainstack, White Frost Effect), 1891, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.jpg|Grainstacks. (Snow effects; sunlight.), 1890-91. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Scotlandmarker, Edinburgh, Scotlandmarker.Image:Poss 1288 Grainstack in Sunshine, 1891, Meule au soleil, Oil on Canvas, 60 x 100 cm, Zurich, Kunsthaus Zurich.jpg|Grainstack in Sunshine, 1891. Oil on canvas. Kunsthaus, Zurich.Image:Claude Monet - Graystaks I.JPG|Grainstack. (Sunset.), 1890-91. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Bostonmarker.Image:1290 Grainstack in the Sunlight, 1891, Oil on Canvas, Private Collection.jpg|Grainstack in the Sunlight, 1891. Oil on canvas. Private collection.

1888-1889 paintings

From the 1888 harvest he produced three canvases featuring two stacks each (Wildenstein #'s 1213-5) against the backdrop of hills along the left bank of the Seinemarker and a few Givernymarker houses to the right. Then, he turned to his left to capture two scenes (1216-7) in which the hills are shrouded by a line of poplars.

Image:1213 Grainstacks at Giverny sunset.jpg|Grainstacks at Giverny, sunset, 1888-9. Oil on canvas.Image:Haystacks1989.jpg|Grainstacks, White Frost Effect, 1889. Oil on canvas. Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, CTmarker.Image:1216 Grainstack at Giverny.jpg|Grainstack at Giverny, 1888-9. Oil on canvas.

Notes

References

  • Forge, Andrew, and Gordon, Robert, Monet, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989.
  • Gerdts, William H., Monet's Giverny: An Impressionist Colony, Abbeville Press Publishers, 1993.
  • Heinrich, Christoph, Claude Monet, Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, 2000
  • House, John, Monet: Nature into Art, Yale University Press, 1986.
  • Kelder, Diane, The Great Book of French Impressionism, Abbeville Press Publishers, 1980.
  • Lemonedes, Heather, Lynn Federle Orr and David Steel, Monete in Normandy, Rizzoli International Publications, 2006, ISBN 0-8478-2842-5
  • Sagner, Karin, Monet at Giverny, Prestel Verlag
  • Stuckey, Charles F., Claude Monet 1840-1926, 1995, co-published by The Art Institute of Chicago and Thames and Hudson.
  • Tucker, Paul Hayes, Monet in the '90s: The Series Paintings, 1989, Museum of Fine Arts, Bostonmarker in association with Yale University Press
  • Wildenstein, Daniel, Monet: or the Triumph of Impressionism, 2006, Taschen GmbH
  • Published on the occasion of the Exhibition Monet’s Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism Organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Artmarker in association with the St. Louis Art Museummarker, 1978, Abradale Press/Harry N. Abrams, Inc.


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