Paul GAUGUIN | Yellow haystacks (The golden harvest) [Les meules jaunes (La moisson blonde)]

France 1848 – French Polynesia 1903

Yellow haystacks (The golden harvest)
[Les meules jaunes (La moisson blonde)]
oil on canvas
canvas 73.5 (h) x 92.5 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Gift of Mrs Huc de Monfreid 1951
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

A rich and vibrant yellow dominates this rural landscape in which two women work at a large haystack. The women are dressed in the traditional black and white costume of the Breton region in north-west France. One stands on a ladder to help her access the haystack while the other works on a lower level. On the left edge of the painting the trunk of a large tree projects upwards into the sky. Nearby, another haystack and some buildings are discernible amongst the trees.

Paul Gauguin developed this composition by overlaying shapes of different colours and textures. Notice how the vertical, matt brushstrokes create the texture of the dry straw in contrast to the rounded grey, brown and purple shapes that form the dry stone wall. These curved shapes are also found in the grassy mounds to the left. Gauguin adds other elements of interest such as the ladder leaning against the tree and a quirky hen and cat sitting near the women. A tree with flaming red foliage draws our attention to the top right corner.

This work was painted during Gauguin’s third visit to Brittany, when he sought a quieter lifestyle in the small fishing village of Le Pouldu. Gauguin was able to experience the rustic lifestyle of the local people and live cheaply. In this painting the lush summer grass and golden hay captures the life giving force of the sun. The artist delights in the harmonious co-existence of human, animal and vegetable life in this rural region.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From audio tour Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay