The Haystack, along with The Lilac Trees and The Path, was part of a set of decorative panels produced for the Bibesco brothers, Antoine et Emmanuel, between 1900 and 1908. As usual, Vuillard turned to his own circle of friends for the subjects of his work. The scene evokes memories of the painter's summer holidays in Amfreville (Calvados), the summer retreat of his friends Jos and Lucy Hessel. We can see Lucy seated on the right with Marcelle Aron, the painter's cousin, and the writer Tristan Bernard, who would later marry Marcelle. The position of the haystack and the young girls is exactly the same as in a photograph taken by Vuillard in the summer of 1907. After buying a small, automatic Kodak camera in 1897, the painter had continued to use his prints as aide-memoires for his paintings. Tristan Bernard's pose is also taken from a photograph, taken at the same time on a beach in Normandy.
Although in the 1890s, Vuillard's decorations conformed to the principles of the Nabi movement – simplified forms, lack of depth – those produced after 1900 show a new interest in nature, revealing an element of Impressionist influence. The image of this haystack animated by the play of light on its surface, inevitably brings to mind Monet's series of Haystacks, exhibited in 1891. Compared with Vuillard's early mural paintings (like The Public Gardens, 1894), he creates a feeling of space, with the light shimmering across the whole surface of the canvas that seems to open up like a window. Although remaining faithful to the medium of distemper, matt and opaque by nature, Vuillard managed to adapt it to his new aspirations, and make it bring out all the colourful vibrations of a sunny day.