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Haystacks, snow effect
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Group: The Series

Artist: Claude MONET
Birth/Death: 1840–1926

Title: Haystacks, snow effect
Date Made: 1891

Lender: Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT

In the winter of 1890–91 Monet embarked on his most experimental modernist works, the Haystack series, in which solid forms are atomised into myriad strokes of tiny colour in response to his ever more acute sense of the complexity of light in ‘the moment of the landscape’.

Monet had depicted the same motifs several times under different effects of light, but until the winter of 1890–91 the maximum number was six views at Belle-Ile. He painted five haystacks in 1889, six in the summer–autumn of 1890, then seventeen to nineteen in the winter of 1890–91.14 This radical increase to thirty repetitions of the motif may well have been in emulation of Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which represented the sacred mountain from different viewpoints, and in different seasons, weathers and times of day, and undoubtedly influenced Monet’s paintings of one or two haystacks in a field in summer, autumn and winter, from early morning mists to blazing sunset.

Despite the fact that most of Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji depict subtly observed human incidents or telling contrasts between human constructions and the pure shape of Fuji, three of the prints from the series in Monet’s collection are landscapes with no figures or signs of human activity: South wind, clear skies (the so-called Red Fuji), Shichirigahama in Sagami Province and Umezawa hamlet-fields in Sagami Province. Monet preferred to minimise human presence — his haystacks are like primal shapes; the cottages are all but absorbed in the trees. In looking at Hokusai’s landscapes without figures, the European viewer is as much involved in the artist’s modes of creation as in subject matter. For example, one can become absorbed in the difference between the painterly handling of Shichirigahama in Sagami Province and the superb gradation of tones and small staccato marks in Umezawa hamlet-fields in Sagami Province, just as one can become absorbed in the multiplicity of brushmarks and colour combinations that differentiate between Monet’s Haystacks.

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