While the sale proves, once again, just how prized the individual “Meules” are, their art-historical importance lies in their serial aspect. After years of working on one scene at a time—a seascape, a luncheon, or a snow-covered fence, for example—Monet opted for a new, long-term project. Over the course of around two years, he’d make longitudinal study of the subject matter lurking in his own yard. Notably, he began his canvases while painting en plein air and finished them in his studio: As an Impressionist, effect was more important than realism. Later, he’d famously repeat the serial process as he fixated on the cathedral in Rouen, the waterlilies in his garden, and London’s Houses of Parliament. The Sotheby’s buyer won’t only be paying for a lush painting of a haystack, but for a symbol of a hallowed artist just discovering his dominant mode.
Within Monet’s larger series of “Meules,” August Uribe, head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art department, unsurprisingly rallies for the singularity of the painting he’s selling. “It’s the best one,” he said. The example on offer, Meules (1890), features a large stack protruding into the composition from the painting’s left side. The sun beams out from the stack’s right edge, creating a curved red line that extends into the grass toward the viewer, who’s looking at the object from its shaded portion. The haystack’s hues—blue at the top, purple in the middle, red at the bottom—signify the subtle gradations created by the natural lighting. Another haystack peeps from beyond the central subject, and lumpy, colorful masses in the distance lead the viewer’s eye out to the painting’s right edge. The stacks create a dividing line between brushy pink sky and soft purple earth. The work is quite obviously concerned with beauty, which no doubt makes it an easy sell.