Sunday, March 07, 2010


Gustave Caillebotte.

My first encounter with a painting by Gustave Caillebotte was decades ago, at an exhibit of French Impressionism in San Francisco. The entire show was amazing, but I was 'floored' (pun intended) by a large piece titled the 'Floor Scrapers' (there are at least two by this title, but it is this one that blew me away).

The painting isn't appealing in the fresh and colorful way of most impressionistic art, nor in any traditional sense of pictorial beauty. Rather, 'The Floor Scrapers' is rendered in monochromatic earth tones. The subject matter is not a landscape, floral or a still life of fruit. What is depicted is a small group of half-naked men busily scraping the old finish off a wood floor. Hardly romantic subject matter.

The imposing size of the painting (40" x 57 3/4") is in itself arresting. The view of their sinewy muscled bodies combined with the dim lighting of the room they are working in - requires one to pause and consider the unusual subject. Taking all that in with this one piece of art - 'got to me'. I was fortunate to see The Floor Scrapers several times again on subsequent visits to the Musee D'Orsay.

Other paintings by Caillebotte grab and hold my attention in the same way. I find it hard to tear myself away...

Gustave Caillebotte was not the most popular of artists to emerge from his era - he was largely overshadowed by the biggie names in French Impressionists: Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cassatt, etc. - whose work he was such a devotee/ supporter. Their influence is evident in his painting, yet Caillebotte's style stands apart.

What appeals to me in Caillebotte's work are the unusual angles, and the way he poses his subjects - many of who stand with their backs to the viewer.  It took years for me to understand that I liken his perspective (in regards to capturing images for painting) - to my own approach to photographing people / places / things.

Once, on a solo trip to London - I (very unexpectedly) happened upon a rare find. The Royal Arts Academy was showing a small exhibit of just Caillebotte's work. Just Caillebotte? I had to attend - and spent a couple of happy hours there, lingering over each painting. One on one. Up close and personal.

For almost a decade, I traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago annually, often several times a year. As a self-professed Caillebotte-maniac, my trips to Chicago would always include a pilgrimage to the Art Institute - specifically to spend quality time with 'Paris Street, Rainy Day'.

For years, a Gustave Caillebotte monograph has been amongst my prize possessions. I treasure it.
Very recently, I found this website. The complete works!?!
Includes pieces I've not seen in a museum or books anywhere in the world.


My love and fascination of 2-D art runs the gamut from traditional representational stuff to contemporary color blocks - and back again. For some time now, I go into throes of artful rapture at the sight of expressionistic sketchy minimalist brushstrokes. Views of art change, grow, slip back and forth and between so many movements.

Yet Gustave Caillebotte's solid images of Parisian urban life will always hold a sweet and tender place in my art appreciation heart.

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