Haystacks, by Claude Monet
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The series is among Monet's most notable works.
Monet settled in Giverny in 1883. Most of his paintings from 1883 until his death 40 years later were of scenes within 3 kilometres (2 mi) 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.
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The stacks depicted herein are variously referred to as haystacks and grainstacks. The 15-to-20-foot (4.6 to 6.1 m) 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 had included haystacks in an ancillary manner. Monet had also produced five paintings with haystacks as the primary subject during the 1888 harvest. The general consensus is that only the canvases produced using the 1890 harvest 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.