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Viewed in the context of city vs. country, the Roeun Cathedral series and the haystacks (several pieces hang in the Art Institute of Chicago) are oppositely (and appropriately) different. Here Claude Monet’s palettes — which he described as “harmonies” during his stay in the Normandy town — enjoy the expanse of an open landscape. In the cathedral series there’s a recurring sense of hyper tension, of overabundance of detail, where the sheer mass of stone seems to encompass and impose on the viewer. This series regains a sense of freedom and inward balance — the air moves freely, no longer trapped by Gothic architecture.

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The Haystacks, End of Summer, Giverny

Color virtually vibrates, implying temporal progression; pieces depicting sunrise and sunset, when shifts in time become particularly highlighted,  further underscore the sense of passing time. Composition is minimal: Monet would paint only one or two haystacks, and avoid monotony by stressing perspective. The stack in front either dwarfs its kin, or breaks its form by partially covering it. While the inherently stationary nature of these scenes seems to contrast with the rhythm of the Poplar Series, both reflect the monumentality of nature.

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Haystacks, Pink and Blue Impressions

Interplay of light and shadow often splits individual haystacks into simpler (easily visually manageable) geometrical forms; when light is scarce, the snow “performs” the same task, covering only the side facing the wind, effectively delineating triangles and trapezoids. The long rectangles of the shadows also contribute to this geometric dance.

Could the close attention the artist paid to the relationship between colored geometrical forms — focusing on their juxtapositions in nature — have carried the seeds of abstraction? Several decades later, such painters as Kandinsky and Malevich removed all links to figurative subject-matter, identifying differently colored planes (triangles, trapezoids, complex irregular shapes) as a painterly theme in its own right. Perhaps, in a way, Monet anticipates the thematics of abstract painting in his haystacks.

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*this article has been edited at a later date

  One Response to “Claude Monet: The Haystacks Series”

  1. I would like to praise you for the thorough descriptions you give here and the insightful critiques of Monet’s artistry. You have done an excellent job giving the meaning of minute observations and meaningfully connecting them back up to Monet’s style. This website seems to have been updated recently this year, though not since 2012 before that. I hope to see more content regularly posted to this site. While it has been almost 8 years since this page was uploaded, I thought it deserved a comment where there are none. Keep it up!

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