Vue du Petit Gennevilliers depuis le 'Fossé de l'Aumone'
Oil on canvas: 28.6(h) x 23.7(w) in /
72.7(h) x 60.3(w) cm
Signed lower right: G. Caillebotte
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Paris 1848 – 1894 Petit Gennevilliers
Vue du Petit Gennevilliers depuis le ‘Fossé de l’Aumone’
Signed lower right: G. Caillebotte
Oil on canvas: 28 5/8 x 23 ¾ in / 72.7 x 60.3 cm
Painted circa 1889
Given by Caillebotte as a wedding present to Edmond B. (1848-1914), a fellow member of the Cercle de la Voile de Paris;
by descent to his great-granddaughter
The Comité Caillebotte has confirmed that this is an autograph work by Gustave Caillebotte and that it is included in the Archives of the artist
Born into a wealthy Normandy family, Gustave Caillebotte was a lynchpin of Impressionism, exhibiting with the group from 1876 to 1882. He inherited a fortune from his father in 1874 and had no need to sell his paintings, but was a generous benefactor to fellow artists, including Monet, Renoir and Pissarro. Caillebotte amassed a superb group of Impressionist works which he bequeathed to the French nation in 1894; today they form the core collection of the Musée d’Orsay. Because he had no need of promotion by a dealer such as Paul Durand-Ruel, who spread the gospel of Monet and his circle, many of Caillebotte’s own paintings remained in the collection of his family and friends. It was not until the 1970s that his work attracted serious scholarly attention and he was revealed as one of the most innovative and original painters of the Impressionist group. His output was relatively modest – he died aged just forty-six – and his financial independence enabled him to choose more radical subjects than some of his contemporaries.
Caillebotte was an urban sophisticate with an intense response to the countryside, and his work reflects this. Earlier in his career he had painted the landscape around the family estate at Yerres in the Ile de France and Parisian life on the doorstep of his well-appointed apartment on the Boulevard Haussmann: flâneurs strolling the straight, uniform streets of the newly-modernized city; bourgeois interiors. After their mother’s death in 1878, the bachelor brothers Gustave and Martial Caillebotte sold up the family properties and in 1881 bought a house on the Seine at Petit Gennevilliers, opposite Argenteuil, about half an hour by train from Paris. There Gustave could indulge his passion for yachting.
From 1882 Petit Gennevilliers and its environs provided Caillebotte’s chief artistic inspiration. Frustrated by the squabbles among the Impressionists, he ceased to exhibit with the group after that year, although he never abandoned old friends. Caillebotte’s work evoked the area’s stimulating mix of the rural, the suburban and the industrial, which had also captivated Renoir and Monet, who lived there from 1871 to 1878. Like Monet, Caillebotte painted Argenteuil’s road and railway bridges, the boat basin, the leafy promenade of chestnut trees. He also unflinchingly portrayed its industrial aspect in such works as Factories at Argenteuil, 1888 (private collection).
Vue du Petit Gennevilliers depuis le ‘Fossé de l’Aumone’ was painted circa 1889, by which time Caillebotte’s allegiance to Petit Gennevilliers was fixed. Martial married in 1887 and Gustave took full possession of the property, where he lived until his death in 1894. He created a private, perfectly ordered kingdom: the spacious, picturesque house and large detached studio, heated greenhouse and neat gardeners’ cottages set in a manicured estate of geometric beds and borders.
South of Caillebotte’s house was a lush rural landscape which he explored with his own highly personal vision. Vue du Petit Gennevilliers depuis le ‘Fossé de l’Aumone’ is taken from the edge of the village of Gennevilliers, looking north-west towards the scattered houses of Petit Gennevilliers. Caillebotte positions himself in the shadow at the edge of the bank, looking towards a sunlit field of hayricks and the trees lining the Seine. As so often with Caillebotte’s landscapes, Vue du Petit Gennevilliers is composed of a few elements arranged with radical simplicity. The vertical accents of the poplar trees are held in tension by the parabola of the edge of the bank, which pushes the gaze into the distance but returns it harmoniously to the foreground. The upright format of the composition, which Caillebotte also used in Peupliers sur la digue d’Argenteuil, au Petit Gennevilliers, c.1889 (private collection), concentrates the attention and allows both artist and viewer to engage deeply with the scene.
Caillebotte often worked out his compositions very precisely, making drawings which were squared up for transfer to the canvas: this aspect of his personality is revealed also in his exquisite designs for his own racing yachts. In conjunction with Caillebotte’s feeling for the underlying geometry of nature, however, is his appreciation for its exuberance and for the glory of light and colour. The foreground shadows are evoked with richly-impasted, nervous cross strokes, conveying light filtering through the leaves of the poplars. There is a subtle demarcation between the yellow-green of the cut field and the blue-green of the uncut hay. The hayricks, drying to paleness in the sun, are painted with fluid energy, as are the wisps of cumulus cloud spiralling from the hazy horizon of a warm May afternoon. The red roofs of the distant houses, add notes of warmth and hints of human presence. Caillebotte takes a serene joy in this landscape formed and made productive by human effort.
Like so many of Caillebotte’s paintings, this work was never sold, but was given by him as a wedding present to Edmond B. (1848-1914), a fellow member of his prestigious yachting club, the Cercle de la Voile de Paris. Edmond B. owned an import-export business in the Rue d’Enghien, Paris and lived at 116 Boulevard Magenta in the 10th arrondissement. The Caillebotte painting was inherited by his eldest daughter Suzanne, then passed to her granddaughter Dominique.
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.
 See Paul Hayes Tucker, The Impressionists at Argenteuil, exh. cat. Washington DC, National Gallery of Art/Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, 2000, p.16.
 Berhaut, 1994, p.217, no.390, illus.
 Berhaut 1994, p.220, no.400, illus.
 Information from the family.