During the summer of 1890, Monet began a series of four paintings depicting poppy fields near his house in Giverny. In this series, along with those of oat and hay fields painted during the same summer, he emphasized both the beauty of Giverny and its vitality as an agricultural center. He also broke with his usual practice of painting fields before planting or after harvesting, as in his well-known series of haystacks. Instead, he depicted rich, fertile crop-fields and flowers in full bloom.
Field of Poppies reflects Monet’s increasing interest during the 1890s in developing the decorative, tapestry-like qualities of his paintings while continuing to explore atmospheric effects. This work is arranged along strong horizontal and vertical axes, created by the field of poppies, the hills of Giverny in the distance, and the tall row of trees. Paint is applied with small touches of the brush and built up to create a shimmering surface texture.
It is difficult to wrest Monet’s paintings from their derivative commercial presence - the ubiquitous water lilies, hay stacks, poppy fields that brand overpriced coffee cups and mouse pads. These images are cultural memories, entries in a shared visual library. The risk of all this oversaturation is that, like the radio hits that play in the mall, the works come to act as an anesthetic, so familiar they let us off the hook from really looking.
We’ve seen so much we don’t know how to see at all - this is my fear, but then Monet seems to have anticipated the problem. No stranger to repetition, he painted the same views again and again in changing weather and light. What made Monet so radical in his time was his insistence that realism inheres not in accurate representations of nature but instead in representations of how we see it. Each work is about the experience of vision. The recurrent views refer to a reality that shifts as subtly and ceaselessly as the atmosphere he paints, and they remind us that the moment rendered is a moment that can never be returned to. For Monet, that loss is inextricable from the dazzling potential for heightened moments of attention to the visual. Repetition is the condition for making new of what we see. The paintings do function as memory objects, but, if we know how to look at them, they are far from visual clichés - they refer to experiences that are highly subjective and ephemeral, and, once experienced, instantly out of reach, lost to the flow of time.
Image Information: Claude Monet. French, 1840–1926. Field of Poppies. 1890. Oil on canvas. Gift of the Honorable and Mrs. Irwin Untermyer in the name of their daughter, Joan L. Untermyer, class of 1940
Oil on canvas
Gift of the Honorable and Mrs. Irwin Untermyer in the name of their daughter, Joan L. Untermyer, class of 1940
ID Number: SC 1940:10