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Artists’ Birthdays: August the 19th – Gustave Caillebotte (1848)

August 20, 2012

Would you like to know it all? We would! That’s why the theme for our Know It All Section for 2012 is Artists’ Birthdays. We hope that these posts will help to increase our and your knowledge in Art History. Lets get acquainted with more painters, lets recognise their artwork and be inspired by the masterpieces!

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Paris: A Rainy Day, 1877

I came across this painting for the first time when I decided to read a book by Jette A.Kaarsbøl “The Closed Diary” (Den lukkkede bog) – the walking couple was used for the book cover and it had to reflect life in 1875 Copenhagen. I must admit I fell in love with the image, but I didn’t bother to find out who it belonged to. A few days ago, looking for artists who were born in August, I saw the name of Gustave Caillebotte and discovered “Paris: A Rainy Day” among lots of other wonderful artwork of his.

It seems “Caillebotte is best known for his paintings of urban Paris, such as The Bridge ‘De l’Europe’ (Le pont de l’Europe) (1876), and Paris Street; Rainy Day (Rue de Paris; temps de pluie, also known as La Place de l’Europe, temps de pluie) (1877). The latter is almost unique among his works for its particularly flat colors and photo-realistic effect which gives the painting its distinctive and modern look, almost akin to American Realists such as Edward Hopper.”

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Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894)

Gustave Caillebotte (19 August 1848 – 21 February 1894) was a French painter, member and patron of the group of artists known as Impressionists, though he painted in a much more realistic manner than many other artists in the group. Caillebotte was noted for his early interest in photography as an art form.

Gustave Caillebotte was born to an upper-class Parisian family living in the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis. His father, Martial Caillebotte was the inheritor of the family’s military textile business and was also a judge at the Seine department’s Tribunal de Commerce. Caillebotte’s father was twice widowed before marrying Caillebotte’s mother, Céleste Daufresne, who had two more sons after Gustave, René and Martial. Caillebotte was born at home on rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis in Paris, and lived there until 1866 when his father had a home built on rue de Miromesnil. Beginning in 1860, the Caillebotte family began spending many of their summers in Yerres, a town on the Yerres River about 12 miles south of Paris, where Martial Caillebotte, Sr. had purchased a large property. It was around this time that Caillebotte probably began to draw and paint.

Caillebotte earned a law degree in 1868 and a licence to practise law in 1870. He was also an engineer. Shortly afterwards, he was drafted to fight in the Franco-Prussian war, and served in the Garde Nationale Mobile de la Seine.

Street Scene

After the war, Caillebotte began visiting the studio of painter Léon Bonnat, where he began to seriously study painting. He developed an accomplished style in a relatively short period of time and had his first studio in his parents’ home. Around 1874, Caillebotte met and befriended several artists working outside the official French Academy, including Edgar Degas and Giuseppe de Nittis, and attended (but did not participate in) the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874.

The “Impressionists” – also called the “Independents”, “Intransigents”, and “Intentionalists” – had broken away from the academic painters showing in the annual Salons. Caillebotte did make his debut in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876 showing eight paintings including Les raboteurs de parquet (The Floor Scrapers) (1875), his earliest masterpiece.

Les raboteurs de parquet

Its subject matter, the depiction of labourers preparing a wooden floor (thought to have been that of the artist’s own studio) was considered “vulgar” by some critics and is the probable reason why it was rejected by the Salon of 1875. At the time, the art establishment only deemed rustic peasants or farmers as acceptable subjects from the working class.

– Style

Caillebotte’s style belongs to the School of Realism but was strongly influenced by his Impressionist associates. Caillebotte aimed to paint reality as it existed and as he saw it, hoping to reduce painting’s inherent theatricality. Perhaps because of his close relationship with so many of his peers, his style and technique varies considerably among his works, as if “borrowing” and experimenting, but not really sticking to any one style. At times, he seems very much in the Degas camp of rich-colored realism (especially his interior scenes) and at other times, he shares the Impressionists’ commitment to “optical truth” and employs an impressionistic pastel-softness and loose brush strokes most similar to Renoir and Pissarro, though with a less vibrant palette.

The Argenteuil Bridge and the Seine, c.1883

Cropping and “zooming-in”, techniques which are also commonly found in Caillebotte’s oeuvre, may also be the result of his interest in photography, but may just as likely derive from his intense interest in perspective effects. A large number of Caillebotte’s works also employ a very high vantage point, including View of Rooftops (Snow) (Vue de toits (Effet de neige)) (1878), Boulevard Seen from Above (Boulevard vu d’en haut) (1880), and A Traffic Island (Un refuge, boulevard Haussmann) (1880).

Boulevard Seen from Above, 1880

– Themes

Caillebotte painted many domestic and familial scenes, interiors, and portraits. Many of his paintings depict members of his family. There are scenes of dining, card playing, piano playing, reading and sewing all executed in an intimate, unobtrusive manner which observes the quiet ritual of upper-class indoor life.

His country scenes at Yerres focus on pleasure boating on the leisurely stream as well as fishing and swimming, and domestic scenes around his country home. Often, he used a soft impressionistic technique reminiscent of Renoir to convey the tranquil nature of the countryside, in sharp contrast to the flatter, smoother strokes of his urban paintings.

Many of his urban paintings were quite controversial due to their exaggerated, plunging perspective. In Man on a Balcony (1880), he invites the viewer to share the balcony with his subject and join in observing the scene of the city reaching into the distance, again by using unusual perspective. Showing little allegiance to any one style, many of Caillebotte’s other urban paintings produced in the same period, are considerably more impressionistic.

A Man On The Balcony

Caillebotte’s still life paintings focus primarily on food, some at table ready to be eaten and some ready to be purchased, as in a series of paintings he made of meat at a butcher shop. He also produced some floral still life paintings, particularly in the 1890s. Rounding out his subject matter, he painted a few nudes, most notably Nude on a Couch (1882), which, though provocative in its realism, is ambivalent in its mood — neither overtly erotic nor suggestive of mythology — themes common to many female nude paintings of that era.

– Other interests

In addition, Caillebotte used his wealth to fund a variety of hobbies for which he was quite passionate, including stamp collecting, orchid horticulture, yacht building, and even textile design.

Please click here for complete Gustave Caillebotte works.

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Information for this post found on Wikipedia.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. blackoryx permalink
    August 20, 2012 8:09 pm

    The only piece I am familiar with is “Les Raboteurs de Parquet” which I think is beautiful for his use of perspective, the tone and whole atmosphere. It is also great subject matter – the pretty and polite are so dull in comparison.

    • August 21, 2012 9:53 am

      I agree with you – “the pretty and polite” paintings usually seem not that interesting. Every artwork has to have something that draws one’s attention and when I saw “Les Raboteurs de Parquet”, I knew that it belongs to a great artist with an inquizitive mind – it’s certainly a subject that not everyone would decide to paint.

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