At the end of the 1880's, Monet’s attention turned to a simple but grand idea presented to him by the fields near his home in Giverny. Wheatstacks, stacks of individually bound stalks that were then thatched, were a familiar sight throughout rural France. "I first of all believed that two canvases would do, one for gray weather and one for the sun. One day I saw that the light had changed. I asked my step-daughter to fetch another canvas, then another, still another. I worked on each one only when I had my effect." Monet painted up to seven canvases at a time, in both summer and winter. Although he worked when the weather was calm, most of the canvases had to be finished in his studio. He was particularly interested in capturing what he called the "envelope" of air colored by light that seemed to surround each wheatstack.
What was the weather, time of day, and season during which Monet painted these wheatstacks? How does Monet convey weather, time, and season in his painting? How did Monet emphasize the wheatstacks’ placement in the fields, their water- or snow-repellent qualities, and the reflection of light off the wheat? Do the wheatstacks remind you of buildings (houses or huts)? Why would wheatstacks be a good subject to paint over and over in a series, as Monet did? Why are there no workers in these fields? Does Monet’s painting inspire a sense of solitude, or community?
Monet was an enthusiastic amateur photographer. What elements of this painting look hike a photograph (a moment captured, the angle, the composition, etc.)? What qualities of this painting could not have been produced by photography?
Impressionist art was initially highly criticized and did not receive great interest or sales. Why? Pretend that your students are art critics for a 19th-century Parisian newspaper. Have them write a review, praiseworthy or satirical, of one of Monet’s paintings. Or, have them write a review of Impressionist works at The Art Institute of Chicago.
Although French collectors were slow to buy Impressionist works, American collectors (including Mr. and Mrs. Potter Palmer of Chicago) bought many of Monet’s works, often as soon as they were put up for sale. Why would a Monet be attractive to Chicago residents of the 1890s, whom some called "the hog butchers of the world?" Why are Monet paintings attractive to Americans today? Have your students pretend to be American collectors, buying some of Monet’s paintings and explaining their reasons for building a Monet collection.
Have your students choose a favorite outdoor scene and observe it over a period of time, recording the physical changes either visually or in writing.
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