Yards of haystacks

Hatstacks like wine bottle corks

Haystacks — the old beehive kind, not the modern giant wine bottle cork ones. And as for yards… well yards of painted canvas spread over a significant number of paintings. Makes me wonder, why haystacks? Why did they become such popular subjects for painters as cute children and dreamy landscapes?

We were back at the Gallery of Modern at to see an exhibition on American Impressionism: A New Vision that has been running over the summer, and closes shortly. One advantage of leaving visiting till the last moment is that parking is no problem, and fewer people shuffle with you in an elongated hirpling caterpillar around the rooms, so allowing more time to study works that appeal.

Mary Cassatt’s painting of a young woman in a white dress, by a window with light flooding through, was the first to catch my eye. Then followed works by other big names — John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler, both friends of the French Impressionists, especially Degas and Monet. Others with works on show had spent time in Paris or near Giverny where Monet had made his home. Yet others had worked in the States.

Hand like a paw

Unlike Vincent van Gogh, Whistler never could paint hands. Note the butterfly (his symbol) between brushes and body.

But back to the haystacks. They were impressive. Twelve little square pictures, originally fifteen, painted by John Leslie Breck at different times of the day: short shadows, long shadows, muted colours, strong colours, the washed out colours of the midday sun, with a moon like a silver button hanging in the sky of the last. Some feat. I sat on the grey leather bench and enjoyed their luminosity.

There was the Singer Sargent painting of Monet painting haystacks, the former slightly flat and crude-looking beside the latter with its wonderful splashes of sunshine on the grass, and soft velvet shadows amongst the trees. On the opposite wall hung one of his famous haystacks, Haystack: Snow effect.

Having exhausted haystacks as a subject for his works, Monet moved on to producing a series of paintings of the tall elegantly slender poplars ranged like dancers in the corps de ballet along the bank of the River Epte near his home. He painted on his studio boat, adapted to let him work from a low viewpoint so that the poplars appear to soar, raising their outstretched arms to the sky, the spectacular reflected in the river.

While engrossed in his series of paintings, the local council moved in to fell the trees, grown as a commercial crop (perhaps for matches) and now ready for clearing. Monet tried to persuade the council to delay their clearing, but no luck. Undaunted, he approached the local timber company and struck a deal that allowed him time to finish his paintings before the trees concerned were felled.

The cost of his action was justified. When his poplar series was exhibited at Durand-Ruel’s gallery in Paris sales were considered very satisfactory. Poplars on the Epte 1891 is a painting I would never tire of looking at, were I lucky enough and rich enough to have it hanging on a wall in my home.

Art terminal

The Musée d’Orsay is a museum in Paris that displays a breathtaking selection of paintings by Impressionists. The impressive building was formerly the Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900.

Queue at d'Orsay

A weekday in May and there are queues to enter the hallowed halls of the old station.

Both Whistler and Singer Sargent were known to many young Scottish artists of the time, with the Butterfly (Whistler) becoming something of an idol to those known as the Glasgow Boys. Some essential ingredient of art appreciation must be lacking in me for Whistler as a man I find eminently fascinating with his dandyish appearance, his sarcasm, his love of blue and white china, and his self belief. But his paintings, often overworked and reworked, leave me cold. Though I rather think I might enjoy seeing the peacocks he painted as he ran amok over the walls and ceilings of his patron’s newly redecorated dining room, his excuse being that the décor didn’t show off his blue and white Chinese vases to best effect.

The hands that couldn't paint hands opened these doors.

Door to the building at 110 Rue du Bac, Paris, where Whistler and his wife Beatrice had a ground floor apartment.

Whistler plaque at 110 Rue du Bac. The corner fixings are in the shape of butterflies. Whistler would no doubt have appreciated that detail, though some of his butterflies which evolved over the years, were more like scorpions which seems appropriate.

Whistler plaque at 110 Rue du Bac. The corner fixings are in the shape of butterflies. Whistler would no doubt have appreciated that detail, though some of his butterflies, which evolved over the years, were more like scorpions which seems appropriate.

Singer Sargent became friendly with the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, and the American woman who became his wife (Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne), when Sargent shared rooms in Paris with his cousin Bob Stevenson. Both were studying at the atelier Carolus Duran.

18th Arr

Rue Ravignan street sign. Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny who later became his wife, and her children, stayed in an apartment at 5 Rue Ravignan in Montmartre, during the winter of 1877.

RLS and Fanny stayed here.

5 Rue Ravignon where Stevenson and Fanny stayed. It looks onto a small leafy square near the famous, but now rebuilt, Bateau Lavoir where Picasso stayed.

Singer Sargent painted RLS, and when Vailima on Samoa became the family home, the furnishings included their Rodin sculpture and Singer Sargent painting, along with Chippendale chairs and a piano, silver, crystal and portraits, rugs, and porcelain tea services, all transported across the world from Edinburgh’s Heriot Row.

Windmill and cherry blossom

The Moulin de la Galette is near Rue Ravignon. Nine years later, Vincent van Gogh took up residence in nearby 54 Rue Lepic with his brother Theo, and of course Vincent painted the Moulin de la Galette.


About jingsandthings

I am me. What do I like? Colour Shapes Textures Paintings, photographs, sculptures, woven tapestries, wonderful materials. The love of materials probably comes from my father who was a textile buyer, and I grew up hearing the names of mills and manufacturers which sounded magical and enticing. Glass in all its soft and vibrant colours and flowing shapes, even sixties glass which makes its own proud statement. A book I can immerse myself in. Meals with family or friends with lots of chat and laughter (and probably a bottle or two of wine). The occasional trip abroad to experience the sights, sounds, food, conversation, quality of light and warmth of other countries. To revel in differences and be amazed by similarities. I like to create and to experience, to try and to achieve. And then there are words – read, heard, written at my keyboard, or scrawled on sticky notes, or along the edges of dog-eared supermarket receipts excavated from the unexplored nooks of my handbag. What do I dislike? Cold Snow Bad design Fast food Condescension
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4 Responses to Yards of haystacks

  1. bebs1 says:

    I love the impressionist era and thanks for the history. Whenever I see haystacks, I always try to get a picture of them.

  2. For me one of the fascinating things about the period of the Impressionists is that so many people from different countries knew one another, I suppose because many of them met in Paris, many of them living beside one another in Montmartre. But it becomes like a large web of contacts around the world. As for haystacks, we now have these cork shaped ones that often seem to end up in black polythene, not nearly as picturesque as those painted by Monet.

  3. Lovely Dorothy. So many bits of the unexpected. That was interesting. And i’m still sneezing from the hay… Just kidding. Hugs!

  4. Thank you, Teagan. One of the great things about blogging is that you can wonder around subjects and delve into the unexpected. You do that extremely well with your stories and recipes. I hope you’ll consider publishing them as an ebook on iBooks as it’s so easy to add photographs and illustrations. Cheers.

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