This painting is recognized as one of the culminating and finest examples of Monet’s Grainstack series.
The Grainstack series – some 25 canvases in all – was the most challenging and revolutionary endeavor that Monet, then 50 years old, had ever undertaken. While he had experimented during the later 1880s with depicting a single landscape subject under different lighting and weather conditions, never before had he conceived of painting so many pictures that were differentiated almost entirely through color, touch, and atmospheric effect. The present painting is among the most formally adventurous of all the Grainstacks – part of a trio of canvases in which a single conical meule is seen close up and cropped by the painting’s edge, transcending naturalism in form and color alike.
Conor Jordan, Deputy Chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art, comments: “Claude Monet’s Meule, a work of shimmering beauty, is one of the last remaining examples in private hands of the artist’s momentous series of Grainstack paintings executed over the winter of 1890-1891. A rhapsody of twilight atmosphere, Meule is rendered with a weft of jewel-like color that evokes both radiant glory of a moment and the universal qualities of the passage of time in nature.”
Monet needed only to walk out his door at Giverny, to a field known as the Clos Morin that lay just west of his home, to find his motif. He set up his easel near the boundary wall of his garden, looking west across the field toward the hills on the far bank of the Seine. There, following the harvest, local farmers piled hundreds of sheaves of bound grain stalks into tightly packed stacks, rising from 15 to 20 feet in height and capped with thatched conical roofs. These served as storage facilities, protecting the crop from moisture and rodents until spring, when the grain could be more easily separated from the chaff. The grainstacks represented the local farmers’ livelihood – the fruits of their labors and their hopes for the future.
Monet and his art dealer Durand-Ruel exhibited 15 Meules in May 1891 to great acclaim and by the close of 1891, all but two of the Grainstacks had left the artist’s studio. The present painting is one of five from the series that the American-based dealer Knoedler selected from the artist in September 1891, and the only one from that group to remain today in private hands.
Monet’s masterpiece Meule, the culminating work in a series of 25 from 1890-1891 and a direct precursor to the famed Water Lilies cycle, attracted highly competitive bidding from 5 clients. After 14 minutes of volleyed bids, it sold for $81.5 million and broke the record for the artist established by Christie’s in 2008.