Sunday, 18 August 2013


“Everybody is so talented nowadays that the only people I care to honor as deserving real distinction are those who remain in obscurity.” - Thomas Hardy

Gustave Caillebotte was born on August 19, 1848, Paris, France and died February 21, 1894, Gennevilliers. He was a French painter, art collector, and impresario who combined aspects of the academic and Impressionist styles in a unique synthesis. Born into a wealthy family, Caillebotte trained to be an engineer but became interested in painting and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He met Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet in 1874, and showed his works at the Impressionist exhibition of 1876 and its successors. Caillebotte became the chief organiser, promoter, and financial backer of the Impressionist exhibitions for the next six years, and he used his wealth to purchase works by other Impressionists, notably Monet, Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Alfred Sisley, and Berthe Morisot.

Caillebotte was an artist of remarkable abilities, but his posthumous reputation languished because most of his paintings remained in the hands of his family and were neither exhibited nor reproduced until the second half of the 20th century. His early paintings feature the broad new boulevards and modern apartment blocks created by Baron Haussmann for Paris in the 1850s and ‘60s. The iron bridge depicted in “Le Pont de l’ Europe” (1876) typifies this interest in the modern urban environment, while “The Parquet Floor Polishers” (1875) is a realistic scene of urban craftsmen busily at work. Caillebotte’s masterpiece, “Paris Street; Rainy Day” (1877 – shown here), uses bold perspective to create a monumental portrait of a Paris intersection on a rainy day.

Caillebotte also painted portraits and figure studies, boating scenes and rural landscapes, and decorative studies of flowers. He tended to use brighter colours and heavier brushwork in his later works.  Caillebotte’s originality lay in his attempt to combine the careful drawing and modelling and exact tonal values advocated by the Académie with the vivid colours, bold perspectives, keen sense of natural light, and modern subject matter of the Impressionists.

Caillebotte’s posthumous bequest of his art collection to the French government was accepted only reluctantly by the state. When the Caillebotte Room opened at the Luxembourg Palace in 1897, it was the first exhibition of Impressionist paintings ever to be displayed in a French museum.

The painting above, “Rising Road” of 1881 is a wonderful, impressionistic work, typical of Caillebotte’s later period. The brilliant colours and bold brushstrokes that the old régime abhorred are evident here and could not be any further from the careful drawing, precise modelling, subdued colours and smoothly worked surface of the academic works of the time. The artist’s mastery of perspective is clearly visible in this work and even though the painting looks fresh and spontaneous, it is also carefully balanced, well-drawn and executed. This artist’s works deserve to be more widely recognised and appreciated.

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