Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye
National Gallery of Art
4th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565, United States
Overview: In 1875 Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894) submitted a painting of floor scrapers to the jury of the Salon, the official exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris. The work was rejected, but Edgar Degas and Auguste Renoir admired it and encouraged him to exhibit with the impressionists. Caillebotte’s canvas, depicting shirtless laborers finishing a wood floor, became one of the sensations of the second impressionist show in 1876. Describing the picture in terms of its realism and modernity, admirers praised its “truth” and “frank intimacy,” while critics deemed it “crude” and “anti-artistic.”
Caillebotte was thrilled by the impressionists’ fresh, radical vision. Over the next six years he participated regularly in their exhibitions, submitting paintings of the people and places he encountered in and around Paris. Featuring skewed perspectives and modern subjects, the canvases reflect the visual drama of the capital — then undergoing radical transformation into a modern metropolis. Caillebotte established himself as an artistic force in the group, as well as a vital organizer who helped curate and finance their exhibitions. During his brief career he also became a significant patron, amassing a collection of more than seventy works, including masterpieces by Degas and Renoir as well as Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley.
Despite these accomplishments, Caillebotte remains perhaps the least known of the French impressionists. Because of his secure finances — derived from his father’s successful textile business — he had no need to earn an income from his art. He therefore did not sell his pictures, and few entered public collections. After he bequeathed his collection to the state, it became the cornerstone of impressionist art in French national museums. But the impressive bequest, which included only two of his own works, overshadowed his artistic achievements and further contributed to his obscurity.
More than a half century after his death at age forty-five, interest in Caillebotte’s art began to reemerge. Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye continues this rediscovery, gathering his best work for a fresh look. Although all periods of his career are represented, attention focuses on the years 1875 to 1882 when he was most closely allied with the impressionists. The exhibition not only includes his most famous cityscapes and interiors, but also shows his artistic range with a selection of portraits, nudes, river scenes, still lifes, and landscapes. Together they portray an artist deeply interested in his surroundings, preoccupied with the ways art can connect us to our environment: “I imagine,” wrote Caillebotte to Monet, “that the very great artists attach you even more to life.”
Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth
1. Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day (detail), 1877, oil on canvas, The Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection. Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago
2. Gustave Caillebotte, The Pont de l’Europe, 1876, oil on canvas, Association des Amis du Petit Palais, Geneva. Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY
3. Gustave Caillebotte, A Boating Party, 1877–1878, oil on canvas, Private Collection. © Comité Caillebotte, Paris
4. Gustave Caillebotte, Fruit Displayed on a Stand, c. 1881–1882, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Fanny P. Mason Fund in memory of Alice Thevin. Photograph © 2015 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
5. Gustave Caillebotte, Nude on a Couch, 1880, oil on canvas, Lent by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The John R. Van Derlip Fund