Let's imagine, just imagine mind you, that the evidence of Monet's wheatstacks drama began here, very early in the morning light, before sunrise:
Then, if you like, listen to an audio commentary about a later wheatstack painting now in the J. Paul Getty Museum's collection: Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning (Meules, Effet de Neige, Le Matin), Claude Monet, 1891, oil on canvas.
One might ask: Did Monet become preoccupied, even obsessed, by particular objects or scenes that came to his painterly eye? Consider his work on wheatstacks, and recall that he didn't sleep a lot. A Wikipedia entry is helpful, even telling:
"Beginning in the 1880s and 1890s, Monet focused on Haystacks and a number of other subjects... In order to work on many paintings virtually simultaneously, he would awake before dawn so as to begin at the earliest time of day..., sometimes working on as many as ten or twelve paintings a day, each one depicting a slightly different aspect of light. The process would be repeated over the course of days, weeks, or months, depending on the weather and the progress of the paintings, until they were completed. As the seasons changed the process was renewed... At differing times of day and in various seasons haystacks absorb the light from diverse parts of the color spectrum. As a result, the residual light that is reflected off of the haystacks is seen as ever-changing, and manifests in distinctive coloring."
One can imagine psychic and physical stress, even zaniness, accompanying such painting, perhaps captured candidly in Monet's journal, as revealed by Seth Reiss, who recently gathered and loosely translated passages from the journal for The New Yorker:
May 14, 1890
Saw giant stacks of wheat today. I think I am going to start painting those.
June 8, 1890
Having a tough time painting these giant stacks of wheat. I guess I assumed I’d blow through them no problem because they’re just giant stacks of wheat and I’m a professional painter, but getting all the wheat to look good is tough.
June 30, 1890
Painted a decent stack of wheat today. Going to call it, “Wheatstack in the Sunlight, Morning Effect.” Something like that.
Confession: I hated literally everything about painting that stack of wheat, especially how the light bounced off it. But here’s the thing: I have to paint the light right. People go apeshit about the light and how accurate the light is. They ask annoying questions like, “Are the shadows accurate based on the light?” And I always think to myself, “Who gives a fuck? It’s a painting of a red boat and it looks like a million bucks.”
July 9, 1890
Got a little cocky today and tried to put two stacks of wheat in one painting. Total train wreck. The light was going this way and that and—you know what? I don’t even want to talk about it.
September 21, 1890
I was going to take the day off, but then I looked at the calendar and flipped out because I had wanted to paint what a stack of wheat looks like at the end of summer in afternoon light. I must have completely blanked on what day it was, so I had to book it down to the farm. Got that wheatstack on the canvas toot sweet. But now that I’ve painted what a stack of wheat looks like at the end of summer, I guess I have to paint what a stack of wheat looks like at the end of fall. And if I do fall, I have to do end of winter. And then the end of spring. Crap.
December 2, 1890
If I can’t paint these things with snow on the tops of them, I’ll have failed as an artist and as a man. What does a stack of wheat look like with snow on it in the morning? In the afternoon? At dusk? What does a stack of wheat look like with frost on it? What does a stack of wheat look like when the sun is not setting, but almost setting? What does a stack of wheat look like at 2:43 P.M. on a Monday, 2:43 P.M. on Tuesday, 2:43 P.M. on a Wednesday, 2: 43 P.M. on a—you get the idea.
Jan 1, 1891
Happy New Year! Painted seven hundred and fifty-five stacks of wheat today.
Feb 18, 1891
Hey, look, if there are fourteen hundred and forty minutes in a day, I am going to paint fourteen hundred and forty stacks of wheat. End of story. I told my wife that yesterday and she threw a goddam fit. She said, “So if there are eighty-six thousand four hundred seconds in a day, Claude, are you going to paint eighty-six thousand four hundred stacks of wheat?” I responded, “Welcome to the wheat-painting project, Camille!”
Feb 24, 1891
Confession: I ate a little piece of wheat this morning because I was wondering if I ate enough wheat, would a wheatstack form in my stomach? And, if so, would I be able to paint it? What if I opened my mouth and let some light in? What would a stack of wheat look like inside my stomach with, say, 10:45 A.M.winter light shining in on it?
March 15, 1891
Starting to wish stacks of wheat didn’t exist and light didn’t exist.
April 23, 1891
Got into a huge shouting match with the wheat today. I know one of those assholes took my painting supplies, but when I confronted the wheatstacks, they flat out denied it. I said, “Hey, dipshits, where’s my paint?” No response. So I went over to one that I’ve been sort of hanging out with and getting to know pretty well and guess what I got? Nothing. Silence.
April, 30, 1891
I painted a stack of wheat with blood gushing out of it, showed it to the wheat, and said, “This is gonna be you.” Then I took a scythe and went to town on those bastards. I’m calling that painting, “Stacks of Wheat Getting Fucked Up by Claude Monet in Spring.”
May 10, 1891
Proud to report that I am done painting stacks of wheat—NOT because I am no longer allowed to, according to the Giverny Police Department, but because I have fulfilled my artistic mission vis-à-vis stacks of wheat. Anyway, I’m glad that’s over.
May 14, 1891
Saw some pretty cool water lilies today.