Oil on canvas, 1888-1889
Gustave Caillebotte, about age 30, c. 1878
Impressionism is a movement in painting that started in the nineteenth century in France. It focuses on sensuous colors, nature, and movement of light. The Impressionist movement’s name came from Claude Monet’s early work “Impression: Sunrise”. The central early Impressionist group was made up of Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas. However, this is not about the Impressionist movement itself but about a man who worked hard for the cause and ensured its spot in history books. For many years he was considered a minor Impressionist by art historians and not important. This man was Gustave Caillebotte.
Very few painters contributed so much to the impressionist phenomenon as Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), and, nevertheless, his name always appears in a second row, behind outsiders like Monet, Renoir, Degas, and company. To his pictorial oeuvre, highly important although perhaps not at the same level than the famous painters mentioned before, Caillebotte adds a vital work of patronage, thanks to its rich social condition, that allows the other impressionist painters to participate in diverse exhibitions and to work with the security of that the young Caillebotte would not doubt in helping them economically if their works were not sold in sufficient amount. In addition, Caillebotte donated to its death a highly important collection of paintings to the French State.
Younger than most of his impressionist colleagues, he does not participate in the first exhibition of 1874, but, however, he is a protagonist in the one of 1877, causing an astonishment in critics and companions. His work looks quite strange: whereas the drawing and the compositions were very similar to the academic and even obsolete painting from the Salon, his brushstrokes and colours had a clearly impressionist vocation.
Oil on canvas, 1876
(80 x 100 cm)
Les raboteurs (The Floor-Scrapers)
Oil on canvas, 1876
102 x 146.5 cm
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
From the Artchive
In his first masterpiece, Les raboteurs (1876, Paris, Museé d' Orsay) Caillebotte reunites an almost photographic focus with a composition marked by a stranger and vertiginous perspective, a constant characteristic in his first works. This work exemplifies as no other the stupor that Caillebotte could cause between the assistants to the firsts impressionist exhibitions. Zola, who really appreciated Caillebotte, described it like "an antiartistic, clean painting, frost and bourgeois, by force of exactitude." It's not strange that the greater applause to this work came from the conservative sectors of the Salon , which perhaps did not please too much to the artist.
Oil on canvas, 1876-1877
(130.8 x 105.7 cm)
Kimbell Art Museum (Fort Worth, Texas, USA)
Le pont de l'Europe Petit Palais, Geneva
Oil on canvas, 1876
Le Pont De L'Europe (detail)
The Bridge of Europe (1876, Geneva , Museé du Petit-Palais) and, of course, Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877, The Art Institute of Chicago) maintains the characteristics of the previous painting, and turns the Haussmann's Paris into the favourite scene of Caillebotte's personal perspective.
In the following year, Caillebotte begins to move away from the serious and cold style of the Salon to create its own totally impressionist style. This is evident in the different versions from the L'homme au balcon , in which the originality of the perspective catches the spectator, attracting it to watch beyond the man - in appearance the protagonist of the painting- to be centred in the grandiloquence of the exterior space.
(Study for "Paris Street; Rainy Day")
Graphite and charcoal on buff paper
30 x 46 cm
From the Artchive
Paris Street; Rainy Day
Oil on canvas, 1877
(276.2 x 212.2 cm)
The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, USA)
The real size for (Paris Street; Rainy Day)
Author terren in Virginia
Beginning in 1851, the government of Napoleon III transformed the old streets of Paris into a new system of grand boulevards. This painting (above) abounds with evidence of the city’s rebuilding. Gustave Caillebotte selected a complex intersection near the Saint-Lazare train station for his subject, distorting the size of the buildings and the distance between them to create a wide-angle view that reflects the sweeping modernity of this capital city.
The artist’s family owned property in the busy neighborhood depicted here, which was populated by wealthy Parisians and workers of various sorts. In the foreground, a man and woman wearing fashionable clothes stroll down the sidewalk. Behind them stand the uniformly designed buildings that were added to Paris during the renovations overseen by French administrator Baron Haussmann.
The highly crafted surface, monumental size, geometric order, and elaborate perspective of Paris Street; Rainy Day (the artist used a gaslight to separate the foreground from the middle and distant views) are more academic than Impressionist in character. Caillebotte clearly intended these elements to underscore the power of painting to capture the momentary quality of everyday life. In this cropped composition, it is easy to imagine that in just a moment, everyone in the painting will have moved and nothing will be the same.
(The Art Institute of Chicago)
Paradoxically, it was not until the Art Institute purchased Paris Street; Rainy Day in 1964 that his best painting became accessible to a wide, international public. It is easy to see just why Caillebotte's work was appealing in 1877 and remains so today. His carefully crafted surfaces, well-conceived perspectival space, and monumental scale were easily accepted by Parisian audiences accustomed to a similar Salon aesthetic. His asymmetrical compositions, cropping, and uncompromisingly modern subjects were exciting to a more radical sensibility. When standing in front of a Caillebotte, a Parisian viewer could, in a sense, eat his cake and have it too. His aesthetic was undeniably modern, but never strayed from the conservative French Academy of Fine Arts. In the words of an anonymous reviewer of the 1877 exhibition: "Caillebotte is an Impressionist in name only. He knows how to draw and paints more seriously than his friends." In Paris Street; Rainy Day, life-sized figures walk toward us on the sidewalk of the rue de Turin just before it crosses the rue de Moscou. This complex intersection was located just minutes from the Saint-Lazare train station and the cast-iron Place de l'Europe, from which one could view the trains rushing back and forth from the countryside. Caillebotte himself owned property in this neighborhood, and Edouard Manet's studio was less than a five-minute walk from this intersection.
The correctly dressed, prosperous couple who are the major figures in the painting politely avert their eyes from the viewer, seemingly unaware of what will soon be a collision of umbrellas with the man entering from the right of Caillebotte's composition. The other figures and two carriages negotiate their way through the grand spaces of this rather stark urban landscape, avoiding each other as well as the beautifully painted puddles in the cobbled streets. Caillebotte greatly enlarged the illusion of space in what is, in fact, a considerably smaller street corner. The figures are scaled down with respect to the buildings, which are also placed at greater distances from each other than they are in reality. Surely, this was done to give a modern, anonymous grandeur to this utterly bourgeois quarter. succinct in his condemnation: "The subject lacks interest, as do the figures, as does the painting. Caillebotte sees a gray, confused world. Nothing is more emptied of character and expression than these faces." Yet, on balance, Caillebotte's painting was very seriously reviewed, probably because it was so large, so ambitious, and so thought provoking. Emile Zola praised the artist for his "courage" and for his desire to "treat modern subjects on a life-sized scale." Georges Riviére, Renoir's friend and "house" critic for the Impressionists in 1877, took on Caillebotte's detractors by reminding them of the artist's efforts to produce the picture. "Those who criticize this painting," he said, "had no idea how difficult it was and what technique was needed to bring off a canvas of this size."
One wonders whether Georges Seurat, then only eighteen years old and already deeply committed to becoming an artist, went to the Impressionist exhibition of 1877. He was a careful student and would have surely been moved by the deliberate pictorial strategies of Paris Street; Rainy Day. Its combination of order and casualness, its application of contrived structures to the depiction of everyday life—all of this would have appealed to Seurat. And is it folly to ask whether Seurat remembered Caillebotte's masterpiece when he started his own immense painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte seven years later? Seurat's masterpiece seems almost too related to Paris Street; Rainy Day not to be in some form an homage to Caillebotte's earlier masterpiece. Caillebotte's rain becomes Seurat's sun. His parapluies (umbrellas) become Seurat's parasols. His urban street becomes Seurat's suburban park. His confrontational composition, Seurat's decorous, planar surface. Yet, all these opposites are resolved when one realizes that each composition is anchored at the right by a couple going for an eternal walk in Paris.
(Analysis: Caillebotte's Modern Aesthetic, Source: Book: French Impressionists
Brettell, Richard. French Impressionists. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago and New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987, p. 45-46. from The Art Institute of Chicago)
When his father died in 1873, Gustave Caillebotte inherited a huge fortune which enabled him to dedicate himself to painting. He immediately enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he studied for a while under Bonnat (1833-1922), official portrait painter to the Third Republic. Caillebotte’s first pictures expressed his own modern vision of painting: influenced by Japanese prints and photography, as demonstrated by the unusual framing of Planing the Floor and The Bridge of Europe. In 1875, he met the Impressionists and, invited by Renoir, he joined the group for its second exhibition in 1876. He was profoundly influenced by them. At first, he leaned towards Degas in his interior scenes and portraits, such as that of Monsieur Cordier in 1883. Later, his landscapes on the banks of the Seine call to mind the work of Bazille, Renoir and especially Monet, who encouraged him to lighten his palette and to paint in the open air. Caillebotte’s forte, however, was urban landscapes: fascinated by Haussmann’s Paris, he painted many views, such as the Paris Street, Rainy Day in 1877.
Oil on canvas, c1883
The Basin at Argenteuil
Oil on canvas, c1882
(81 x 65.5 cm)
Sailing Boats at Argenteuil
Oil on canvas, c1885-c1890
Musee d'Orsay (Paris, France)
Sunflowers on the Banks of the Seine
Oil on canvas, c1886
Boathouse in Argenteuil
Oil on canvas, 1886-1887
Boats Moored on the Seine
Oil on canvas, 1892
(73 x 60 cm)
In the decade of the 1880s Caillebotte's artistic career gives a radical turn when he moved to a house in front of Argenteuil, at the banks of the Seine, where begins his interest in the sailboats.
The works of this period are characterized by a moderation in the perspective, less forced than in most of his urban paintings, although he continues with the unusual compositions, or by strange points of view or to be in appearance arbitrarily cut. The beautiful images of sailboats painted by Caillebotte in his final years have a clear influence of those represented by Monet years before.
Oil on canvas, 1877
Oil on canvas, 1878
(113 x 157 cm)
Regatta at Argenteuil
Oil on canvas, 1893
The Seine and the Railroad Bridge at Argenteuil
Oil on canvas, 1885 or 1887
(115.6 x 154.9 cm)
Gift of the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation
© Brooklyn Museum
Pommier en Fleurs (Apple Tree in Bloom)
Oil on canvas, .ca.1885
18 7/8 x 23 5/8 in.
Bequest of William K. Jacobs, Jr.
© Brooklyn Museum
While The Floor Scrapers (1875), The Pont de l'Europe (sketch; 1876), and House Painters (1877) reveal the artist's fascination with Parisian subject matter--from the streets of the French capital to the labors of a growing urban working class--Skiffs on the Yerres (1877) demonstrates the artist's interest in light, water, and reflection (principal ingredients of Impressionism), as well as the physical activity and camaraderie of the boaters. Regattas at Villers (1880) captures the atmosphere Caillebotte experienced as a painter and as an avid competitive sailor. Two paintings from the Brooklyn Museum's collection, The Seine and the Railway Bridge at Argenteuil (1885-87) and Apple Tree in Bloom (circa 1885), disclose the artist's interest in the juxtaposition of the built and natural worlds.
(Art Knowledge News)
Gustave Caillebotte was as irresistibly drawn to the artistic rebels who'd form the nucleus of the French Impressionists as metal shavings are drawn to a magnet. He quickly adopted their painting style, put his training as a lawyer to good use organizing Impressionist shows and liberally distributed his (sizable) discretionary income amongst his painter friends, acquiring their works at both will and generous prices. At the time he painted the blooming apple tree, Caillebotte had left Paris to live in Petit-Gennevilliers near Argenteuil and the Impressionists had long before disagreed and disbanded as an exhibiting group.
Un balcon (1880)
Man on a Balcony
Oil on canvas, 1880
117 x 90 cm
From the Artchive
In his will, Caillebotte donated a large collection to the French government. This collection included sixty-eight paintings by various artists: Camille Pissarro (nineteen), Claude Monet (fourteen), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (ten), Alfred Sisley (nine), Edgar Degas (seven), Paul Cézanne (five), and Édouard Manet (four).
At the time of Caillebotte's death, the Impressionists were still largely condemned by the art establishment in France, which was dominated by Academic art and specifically the Académie des beaux-arts. Because of this, Caillebotte realised that the cultural treasures in his collection would likely disappear into "attics" and "provincial museums". He therefore stipulated that they must be displayed in the Luxembourg Palace (devoted to the work of living artists), and then in the Louvre.
Unfortunately, the French government would not agree to these terms. In February 1896, they finally negotiated terms with Renoir, who was the will's executor, under which they took thirty-eight of the paintings to the Luxembourg. The installation constituted the first presentation of the Impressionists in a public venue in France. The remaining twenty-nine paintings (one, a Degas, was taken by Renoir in payment for his services as executor) were offered to the French government twice more, in 1904 and 1908, and were both times refused. When the government finally attempted to claim them in 1928, the bequest was repudiated by the widow of Caillebotte's son. Most of the remaining works were purchased by Albert C. Barnes, and are now held by the Barnes Foundation.
Forty of Caillebotte's own works are now held by the Musée d'Orsay. His Man on a Balcony, Boulevard Haussmann (Homme au balcon, boulevard Haussmann) (1880), sold for more than US$14.3 million in 2000.