Paris 1848 - 1894 Gennevilliers
The son of a wealthy textile manufacturer of Norman descent, Gustave Caillebotte gained a law degree before studying with Léon Bonnat in 1872 and briefly at the Ecole des Beaux Arts the following year. He was attracted by the radical work of the young painters who would become known as the Impressionists after meeting met Degas at the house of Giuseppe de Nittis in 1874. He joined the group for the second Impressionist exhibition of 1876 and showed with them until 1882, making great efforts to keeping the squabbling painters united. Having inherited a large fortune from his father in 1874, Caillebotte had no need to sell his work and could help his friends financially, amassing a superb collection of Impressionist paintings which he bequeathed to the nation in 1894. Including masterpieces such as Manet’s Balcony, 1869 and Monet’s Gare St-Lazare, 1877, it today forms the core collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Planing the floor, 1875 (Musée d’Orsay) combines the sombre palette and traditional execution that Caillebotte would have learned from Bonnat with a working-class subject and strikingly unusual composition that indicates his search for a ‘new Realism’. It was shown at the Impressionist exhibition of 1876. Until 1881 Caillebotte’s subjects were contemporary modern life and the domestic life of his family, as well as plein-air studies at his family’s country house at Yerres. Critics praised the parallels in his work with Realist writers; Zola called him ‘a painter of the highest courage’. In 1878 Caillebotte moved to 31 Boulevard Haussmann, behind the Opéra, in the heart of Baron Haussmann’s sleek, contemporary Paris. It inspired him to capture the light and shade, the compelling severity of the city’s architecture. Top-hatted dandies are often turned from the viewer, mysterious ‘modern men’ as unemotional as their surroundings.
Disillusioned by the discord surrounding the Impressionists, Caillebotte moved in 1881 to Petit-Gennevilliers near Argenteuil, where he could indulge his passion for yachting. He painted the Normandy coast and the Seine, evoking light and atmosphere with broken Impressionist brushwork and a high-key palette much influenced by Monet. At Petit-Gennevilliers, Caillebotte became an enthusiastic gardener. Works such as Dahlias, the garden at Petit-Gennevilliers, 1893 (private collection; Berhaut no.443) are boldly and freely executed. Caillebotte was engaged in a series of panels portraying exotic plants from his greenhouse, intended for his dining room, when he died in 1894. As most of his work remained in the collections of his family and friends, Caillebotte’s extraordinary contribution to Impressionism remained less well known than that of his peers, but has gradually been rediscovered since the 1970s.
The work of Gustave Caillebotte is represented in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva; the National Gallery, London; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Gallery, Washington DC and the Art Institute of Chicago.