In contrast to his Water Lily, Haystacks and Poplars landscapes, Claude Monet did not organize the poppy field paintings into series. These are his earlier works, and they do not yet possess that particular intensity and focus that makes the later “harmonies” so captivating.
While the artist reveals a good eye for finding original compositions, overall the works appear relatively orthodox, in line with classic landscape painting norms. Sometimes it seems that the brush revels in the simplest, yet joy bringing pleasures of establishing a colorful contrast between the scarlet flowers and their surroundings.
Still, we witness Monet striving to explore how a single theme — a patch or blooming flowers — acts in various settings. In one case the artist walks directly into a field, letting the red cover the entire foreground — act as a compositional counterbalance to the blue sky. In another he examines how the blossoms interact with a more shaded environment such as a hollow or a ravine. In yet another piece he juxtaposes his theme with a few farmhouses nearby.
Perhaps these works proved the flowers an unfitting subject-matter for later series: while bright and colorful, the do not have volume — unlike the haystacks and the poplars — or an accompanying mirror effect — unlike the water lilies and the pond. Lack of these qualities reduces the options of light and shade interplay, a quintessential impressionist element.
In a way, these are some of Monet most “earthy” works: the flowers, literally growing from the ground, appear unrelated to the atmosphere, belonging strictly to the domain of the land. They resemble a weighty blanket infused with a bright hue, which almost literally presses them down.
Light, though made somewhat apparent, does not yet exude a vibrancy that permeates the entire ambiance of later output, where the boundaries between the tangible and intangible appear to evaporate in the form of pulsating color. There the subjects, bulky or tall, function as links between the elements of air and earth, carrying all the permutations of a rising or setting sun’s rays.
And so it was the poplars, appearing in the background of separate poppy works, and the haystacks, implied by the farms caught on other canvases, that eventually captured the artist’s imagination.
*this article has been edited at a later date