As the 1880s drew to a close, Monet began to reconsider his habit of returning to a site and painting the same motif in different conditions of light, weather, and mood. He had begun to produce a great many views of haystacks in the fields around Giverny. Could these pictures perhaps be shown as a series?
It was when he visited the Creuse Valley in the winter of 1889 that Monet conceived his first true series. In this remote, desolate part of central France, he would take several canvases to the same site each day, replacing a canvas whenever he noticed the light had altered. Groups of paintings with identical composition showed mutations in colour, tonality, and texture, evoking the passage of time.
Although the paintings in Monet's series were begun en plein air (in the open air), most of them were extensively reworked in the studio. Concerned with the effect of the ensemble, Monet would make strategic adjustments – emphasising contrasts, developing variations, bringing all the works up to strength.
When they were exhibited, the Creuse Valley series and the Haystacks were a critical and commercial success. Monet pursued ever more subtle and fugitive effects in his subsequent exhibitions – mists on the Seine at dawn, the play of light on the façade of Rouen Cathedral, a mantle of iridescent fog over the Thames, and so on.
Source: Maloon, Terence. Monet and the Impressionists exhibition brochure.
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2008
Ravine of the Petite Creuse 1889, Claude Monet.
Oil on canvas. Private collection, courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Rouen Cathedral façade and Tour d'Albane (morning effect) 1894, Claude Monet.
Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Tompkins Collection – Arthur Golden Tompkins Fund