Summary of Gustave Caillebotte
Even up to the 1950s, Gustave Caillebotte was relatively unknown despite achieving much in Paris during the reign of the Impressionists. Like many of his fellow avant-garde artists, he was fascinated by the impact of industrialization and modernization on the city of Paris and its inhabitants. While he is classified as an Impressionist, the paintings that are considered by most to be his masterpieces actually fall more into the category of Realism, like the work of his predecessors, Millet and Courbet, and even Degas or Monet's earlier work. Individual paintings in his oeuvre frequently feature the distinctive, loose brushwork and lighter palette of the Impressionist style, but the paintings for which he is best known are large-scale, precise "evocations of photographic naturalism," as one contemporary critic put it, although at the time the comment was meant to be taken pejoratively. Ultimately, what he had most in common with his Impressionist colleagues was his choice of subject matter: he depicted themes from everyday life rather than those favored by formally trained, academic painters.
- Caillebotte was an enthusiastic collector of photographs as were some of the other artists in the Impressionist group - Degas most of all. In both artists' work you can easily identify some of the major formal characteristics that borrow from photography. Foremost is the often radical cropping of a portion of a painting, drawing, or print, imitative of the way the camera lens cuts off the edges of a given view. There is evidence that he used photographs produced by his brother, Martial, an accomplished photographer who did not receive much recognition for his work, as references and probably direct guides for some of his compositions.
- Like many of his Impressionist and Post-Impressionist colleagues, Caillebotte was influenced by Japanese art, especially printmaking. Prints, particularly those from the Edo period in Japan, provided these artists with thematic inspiration as they typically captured scenes from daily life. Their formal influence was even more pronounced and, in the work of Caillebotte, one can detect it in the often extremely tilted ground of a work and the frequent high vantage points, both major visual traits of Japanese prints.
- For decades after his death, Caillebotte was better known as a major source of financial support and patronage of a number of his artist colleagues, including his close friends Renoir and Monet, as well as Manet and Pissarro.
- For decades after his death, Caillebotte was better known as an important donor to the French State of a collection of important Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in addition to bequeathing a large number of his own paintings. In fact, the bequest specified that the works should be displayed in the Luxembourg Museum and later in the Louvre Museum - which was somewhat problematic at the time as his art was still not accepted widely by the mainstream artistic establishment.
Progression of Art
The Floor Scrapers
Courbet originally submitted this painting to the official exhibition of the French Academy in 1875 but the jury of the exhibition, the Salon, refused the painting, deeming it "vulgar." Those representatives of the artistic establishment considered the subject, common workers refinishing a wood floor, "unheroic" and the strange, tilted view was thought to be too radical. Even the well-known, avant-garde writer and critic, Émile Zola, who had defended the Impressionists, denounced this work as being "anti-artistic" and "photographic." He went on to state that the work was "so accurate that made it bourgeois." However, The Floor Scrapers, which is regarded as one of Caillebotte's best works, did capture the attention and admiration of some of the Impressionist painters who persuaded him to display the piece in their second exhibition in 1876.
In this painting, three workers, naked from the waist up and completely absorbed in their strenuous labor, scrape away old layers of varnish in what is to become Caillebotte's first studio. The viewer observes the scene from the far end of the room and the floor seems to angle severely upward toward the window that is illuminating the portions of the floor that they haven't yet scraped as well as their bent and muscled backs.
In fact, The Floor Scrapers is one of the very first paintings representing the "urban proletariat," according to the Musée d'Orsay. "Whereas," explains the museum, "peasants (Gleaners by Millet) or country workers (Stone Breakers by Courbet) had often been shown, city workers had seldom been painted." Caillebotte did not, however, infuse this work with social or political meaning. Instead, the painting seems more like a visual document of an exceedingly banal event. At the most, he may have been connecting the careful labor of floor refurbishing to that of creating a painting like this one with such precision, a clearly laborious undertaking.
After Caillebotte's death, this painting was bequeathed to the French state but it was only through the insistence of Renoir and Martial Caillebotte that it was eventually hung in the Musée du Luxembourg in 1896.
Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Paris Street, Rainy Day
While Zola had blasted The Floor Scrapers the year before, when Caillebotte exhibited Paris Street, Rainy Day along with five other paintings, the influential critic had a much more positive view of the artist's work. Zola wrote, "At last, I will name Mr. Caillebotte, a young painter of the most beautiful courage and who does not give up in front of full-size modern subjects," a theme that the critic vehemently supported. He described the figures, the man and woman in the foreground as "beautifully truthful" in their realism and argued that when Caillebotte's talent had "softened a little," he could be regarded as "one of the boldest of the group" of Impressionists.
At the 1877 exhibition, the third of the Impressionist group, some observers also compared the perceived realism of this painting, among others by Caillebotte, to that of photography. And it wasn't merely the realism that provoked such comparisons. Significantly, the sharp focus on the figures in the foreground contrasted with the softening - almost blurring, really - of the background surroundings is very evocative of the way a photograph looks. Also, the emphatic cropping of the image - the man on the far right is only halfway in the picture - is directly suggestive of a photograph, of the way in which a camera excludes anything beyond the picture frame.
Recently, comparisons have been made between Caillebotte's paintings and the photographs of his brother, Martial. The brothers' shared interests, from boat racing and leisure pursuits in the countryside to modern construction and engineering methods and feats such as bridges and railways and the bustling life of the modern city, are reflected in their respective work. It has been suggested that, if they did not work directly in tandem per se, they embraced the same visual language, particularly in terms of how photography and painting seemed to have become indelibly linked in some of the most compelling avant garde art of the period, a relationship that was not necessarily deemed positive by critics of the day who didn't see the point in producing paintings that they believed imitated photographs.
While the painting seems deliberately divided by the lamppost in the center, the weightiness of the right half of the image due to the dark colors and mass of the figures seems out of balance with the open space of the left half of the composition. It's awkward, as are the poses of many of the figures populating the painting, some of whom seem as though they may collide with one another. They are all frozen in time as would happen with a photograph, which is another feature of this work that suggests that, if Caillebotte didn't use a photo to create the composition, he was at least thinking extensively about making formal choices that would lend the picture the semblance of being a photograph. Caillebotte scholar Kirk Varnedoe has argued that a good number of the artist's paintings originated as small, precise drawings that are almost exactly the same size as the plates his brother, Martial, used when making photographs.
This massive painting - the figures are life-size - depicts a specific location in modernized Paris: the Place du Dublin (as it is now referred) near the Gare Saint-Lazare (Saint Lazare Train Station). The neighborhood was newly renovated, with old buildings and narrow streets demolished or destroyed during the Franco-Prussian War at the beginning of the 1870s to make way for the wide boulevards that are so characteristic of modern Paris. Thus, in addition to celebrating the improving technology of photography, this painting also celebrates the urban modernization process. Unlike some of the Impressionists such as Monet and Pissarro, whose works have been interpreted as lamenting the effects of industrialization and modernity on Paris and its environs in particular, Caillebotte seems to have had a more positive outlook.
The precision of works like Paris Street, Rainy Day has prompted some scholars, including Varnedoe, to argue that Caillebotte was far more a Realist than an Impressionist given that the latter was a practice painted on site, often en plein air (out in the open air), rather than in their studios looking at drawings or photographs on which to base their paintings. However, the argument seems somewhat moot as, first of all, other artists like Degas worked just as often in their studios as on site and also relied heavily on photography for composing many works both compositionally and conceptually. Further, one major aspect of this and other works that is overlooked is the surprising lack of details available. The almost blurring effect of his omission of details does connect his pictures to those of other Impressionists, despite his rejection of the loose brushwork that was so characteristic of their paintings.
Oil on canvas - Chicago Art Institute
Pont de l'Europe (Europe Bridge)
Pedestrians and even a dog stroll across or pause to look at the railway tracks of the Saint Lazare Train Station in this 1876 painting by Caillebotte, one of the works that drew praise from Zola when he exhibited it the same year it was painted. The newly constructed bridge linked six major avenues, each one named after a European capital. The vantage point of the viewer is from the rue de Vienne. One of the heavy iron trusses of the Pont de l'Europe is a prominent feature of the painting. The focus, aside from the bridge itself, seems to be the man leaning against the bridge, the dog, and the man and woman who, upon first glance, appear to be a couple; moving in opposing directions, these figures emphasize the lively character of the setting.
Analyses by art historians tell a more intriguing story than what meets the eye: the man on the left, who seems to be part of a couple, is more likely unattached to the woman who walks slightly behind him. He has been identified as a flâneur, a well-to-do man who roams the modern city at his leisure like an invisible presence with no role to play but that of silent observer. The woman, on the other hand, has been identified as a prostitute; she is well-dressed and resembles a bourgeoise, an affluent woman but, in fact, no proper woman of the period would have been strolling along the bridge without an escort. Alternatively, some scholars have argued that the man is Caillebotte himself and the woman his model and mistress, Anne-Marie Hagen, but there is no way to confirm that assertion. The man peering over the edge of the bridge is dressed in working-class clothing and is almost a ubiquitous fixture of the artist's scenes from the modern city of Paris, where more than ever before the wealthy were mixing with the working class on the widened boulevards and expansive public spaces like parks and squares.
Educated not only as a lawyer, Caillebotte was also trained as an engineer, although he never practiced the profession. His rendering of the Pont de l'Europe seems to emphasize the engineering feat this bridge was considered to be when it was first constructed. It is almost heroic in scale, dwarfing the newly constructed, symmetrical looking buildings on the far side of the square but still including them, as though they in their newness are connected. In contrast, in the space through the trusses, some of the medieval structures of the old Paris are barely visible, as though the bridge and, more importantly, technological advancements, are meant to conceal if not obliterate them. Possibly to emphasize another reference to technological progress, the railroad that lies almost out of sight to the right of the bridge and the picture frame, the truss of the bridge cuts a strong, emphatic diagonal through the painting as though speeding through like the trains below.
Caillebotte created a companion painting to this one titled On the Pont de l'Europe, which zooms in on the iron structure, rivets and all, of the bridge until it is a heavy, abstract form that frames three male figures walking in different directions. For both works, and others, he created detailed preparatory drawings, possibly using photographs. In one drawing, the man and woman are walking beside one another. The dog is nowhere to be seen and the space between the viewer and the couple and between the couple and the far side of the square is not nearly as populated.
Oil on canvas - Musée Petit Palais, Geneva
View of Rooftops (Snow Effect)
By the opening of the fourth Impressionist exhibition in 1879, Caillebotte's painting career had gained considerable momentum; that year he submitted more than 25 paintings, including this and another roofscape. He was by then fully a member of the Impressionist group - there was no speculation at the time as to whether or not he was one of them - and was also one of their most generous patrons. Unlike many of his controversial works from past exhibitions, his roofscapes generated no controversy. However, they constitute an important link between his almost maniacally precise images of the city of Paris and those paintings of his colleagues that so often focused on the effects of the seasons and the weather of both urban and rural settings.
In keeping with his tendency to create paintings with unusual perspectives, with View of Rooftops, the vantage point seems to be somewhere well above the rooftops of urban Paris, perhaps on a balcony, as Caillebotte produced several images that featured balconies, particularly with single figures perched on them and surveying scenes below them undetected.
The alternate title of the painting, Snow Effect, seems to be the major focus of the painting as the usual precision with which Caillebotte creates his modern cityscapes is largely absent, in a way obliterated by the snow. Instead, the white patches of snow interspersed with the dull gray that is almost synonymous with Paris winters create the impression that the painting and perhaps the city itself remain to be finished, the hazy lines that define edges more emphatically drawn.
Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Nude on a Couch
Another working-class Parisian makes an appearance in this work. The nude woman seen here resting on the couch has removed her clothing and has tossed it somewhat haphazardly on the end of the couch above her head. Her shoes sit beside the couch and their quality, combined with that of her clothes, suggest she is not well-to-do. She seems to be sleeping, with one arm shielding her eyes from the light.
This is not a typical, academic style nude featuring a reclining female figure placed in a seductive pose. Ordinarily, the nude female would be depicted looking out toward the viewer in a gesture of sexual or at least sensual engagement. However, this woman, seems to have fallen asleep, possibly while posing but the circumstances are not especially clear. Because the subject doesn't make eye contact, the viewer becomes something of a voyeur, assuming a vantage point identical to that of the painter himself. The scene is actually somewhat claustrophobic as well. It is as though we, the viewers, have walked into the room at an awkward moment, a feeling that is further emphasized by the unusual angle of the couch: on the lower left corner, the couch seems to protrude from the front of the picture plane and the effect is that we are actually in the painting as there is no barrier. Significantly, the painting is almost life-size, so the feeling of being in it is further enhanced.
While the face of the reclining woman is in shadow, the raking light that compels her to place her arm over her eyes illuminates her body so that it is extremely pale. She is not seductive; rather, this young working-class woman seems to be exhausted. In fact, the woman frequently modeled for Caillebotte and eventually became his mistress. However, she is not lovingly painted; rather, like many other works by the artist, this one has a kind of neutral, documentary feel to it, as though the only goal is to provide a visual account of this generally mundane scene.
Art historian Michael Fried has posited an alternative interpretation of the work. He argues that what we are witnessing is a private erotic moment, that the woman is actually playing with her nipple, arousing herself, and that her flexed foot is further evidence of her aroused state. He claims that, in depicting her as such, "the painting attempts to render accessible or, say, intuitable, to an audience traditionally figured as male (but the basic situation would be no different if it were figured otherwise) a particular absorbed bodily state - female autoeroticism or autoaffection - that despite the unprecedented display of female nakedness is effectively private, withdrawn, closed." By "the unprecedented display of female nakedness," Fried means that the body of the woman has not been depicted as traditionally sensuous but, rather, acutely real. Her self-absorption makes us want to retreat from the scene rather than enter into it further.
Oil on canvas - Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Calf's Head and Ox Tongue
This gruesome still life painting is one of a group of four pictures with the theme of raw meat. Here, the red tongue of an ox, removed from the animal's head (and thus its normal context) emphatically emphasizes the butchering of its owner as does the severed head of the calf displayed next to it. Whereas the image could be far more visceral and disturbing, Caillebotte used a palette that is surprisingly decorative given the subject matter: it's the palette of a light-hearted Impressionist picture only the objects aren't beautifully attired, well-to-do denizens of Paris but rather large chunks of meat on view and for sale in a butcher's window.
Like virtually all of the Impressionists, Caillebotte produced a number of still-life paintings and the subjects tended to be fairly standard: fruit and vegetables on display, elegantly arranged delicacies, flowers and more. However, as art historian Gloria Groom points out, he also "undertook a series of extraordinarily direct and confrontational paintings in which he depicted fresh meat on display, reinventing the genre in radical and unprecedented ways." Groom suggests that, because of his wealth, Caillebotte was not restricted in terms of subject matter. Whereas his friends and fellow painters Monet and Renoir struggled to support themselves early in their careers and tailored their themes to the art market, he was free to paint subjects that were not only of less interest to buyers but could often be openly offputting and even shocking.
With his series of paintings featuring meat, Caillebotte was drawing on the very long tradition of still life painting and works of the same theme by well-known painters like Rembrandt who excelled at producing beautifully crafted still life imagery. He probably also knew of the work of the 19th-century French painter, François Bonvin, who created disturbingly realistic images of slabs of beef displayed in nondescript interiors. Unlike Rembrandt and Bonvin, however, the potentially gory impact of Caillebotte's painting is radically toned down by the strangely pleasant palette.
Critic Philip Kennicott and art historian Michael Fried have both commented on the obvious symbolism of the disembodied tongue. "Tongues are for speaking,' writes Kennicott, "and the calf's head suggests attenuated youth. There is something going on here," he continues, "about ideas of transmission and death, about communication and silence, relationships that have lapsed into the incommunicable isolation of pure otherness. Caillebotte," he concludes, "has hung up sadness on the wall, quietly and without comment."
Fried notes that the theme of silence is not only appropriate but "implicit" to "still life as a genre." Referring to the picture as "oddly poignant," he suggests that the glaring silence of that dangling tongue functions basically as "a vigorous protest on behalf of the body," whether that of the ox itself, the body of an animal, or that of a human: in particular, the viewer, who is here confronted with his or her own mortality, according to Fried.
Oil on canvas - The Art Institute of Chicago
Man at His Bath
Although it was painted in 1884, Man at His Bath was not exhibited until 1888 at the exhibition of Les XX in Brussels and, probably not surprisingly, provoked a shocked public and critical response. Like many of his paintings, this one is nearly life size, measuring 57 x 45 inches. Similar to his Nude on a Couch, Caillebotte has created a vantage point for the viewer that draws him or her into the scene at a strange and intimate angle, as though crouching slightly in the foreground so that even the genitals of the male figure, who is toweling himself off after a bath, are visible - and in a way that is quite unintentional. Indeed, he is not posing but is absorbed in the ritual of the bath, which has concluded so recently that even his wet footprints have not dried.
Without question, Caillebotte's penchant for representing off-putting subjects achieves new heights as he portrays a contemporary man, not a classical nude, in a contemporary setting rather than, for instance, some kind of bucolic fantasy world. Even his unusual Nude on a Couch, however, did not challenge the artistic establishment as this work did because, while unidealized representations of nude women were becoming increasingly more familiar - Manet's Olympia is a major example in this regard - there was really no precedent for a work like Man at His Bath nor was there an impulse on the part of any of his contemporaries to join Caillebotte in exploring the theme of the unidealized (or any version of) the male nude. Indeed, as art historian Paul Wood points out, "Throughout the 19th century, the status of the male nude was steadily marginalized in avant-garde art." While Degas had created some extremely untraditional and unglamorous images of women bathing, often featuring them in awkward poses and completely self-absorbed, he did not create male-dominated versions of such works.
For all of its challenges to the artistic establishment, over a hundred years later, Caillebotte's Man at His Bath was redeemed when the Museum of Fine Art in Boston purchased the painting for $17 million dollars. A century later, the work may finally be regarded as, among other things, fundamentally exemplary of the artist's appreciation for the male form and for the human body, including or possibly specifically when it is not posing or otherwise self-conscious.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Chrysanthemums in the Garden at Petit-Gennevilliers
Like the other genres with which he engaged, Caillebotte managed to imbue his still-life paintings with his own style, one that combined realism and unconventional views. While the palette is quite naturalistic - the viewer can imagine standing among these flowers in the artist's family garden, they look so real - the flatness of the composition is odd. It is as though Caillebotte intentionally eliminated the kind of modeling and contrasts of dark and light that would provide the illusion of the depth. As a consequence, the flowers, stems and leaves seem to cascade across the picture plane and the surface of the canvas becomes a kind of decorative panel. Indeed, it has been proposed that this painting may actually have been intended to function as a door panel, installed on the lower portion of the door so the viewer would look at it from above, focusing foremost on the blooms at the top.
This emphasis on flatness and relatively large areas of mostly solid color is also a major feature of the Japanese prints that captivated the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. The references to Japanese art and culture don't end there as the chrysanthemums themselves were, as Met Museum curator, Jane R. Becker points out, "prized at the time as an exotic reference to all things Japanese and Chinese." In fact, an adept gardener, Caillebotte cultivated a number of different kinds of flowers that were equally prized at the time such as irises and roses and, of course, chrysanthemums.
With this painting, the influence of the Impressionists and particularly his friend Monet is also evident in the urge of Caillebotte to describe the effect of light at a particular moment in time, as the sunlight "falls from the left of the flowers," writes Becker, "casting a shadow on the green stalks at right and a glow of light that particularly kisses the white, yellow, and orange flower petals." It is the transitory nature of life that is captured here, which has long been a part of the tradition of still-life painting, especially those that feature fruit or flowers that are in various states of ripeness or, conversely, decay.
Oil on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Biography of Gustave Caillebotte
Childhood and Education
Gustave Caillebotte was born into a wealthy Parisian family on August 19, 1848. The family lived in Paris on the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis. Martial Caillebotte, his father, had inherited his family's military textile business. Additionally, the elder Caillebotte was a judge at the Tribunal de commerce in the Seine department. He had already been widowed twice by the time he married his third wife and Gustave's mother, Celeste Daufresne. The eldest of her three children with Martial, Gustave had two younger brothers, Rene and Martial.
In 1860, the family began going for the summer to their estate in Yerres, which was 12 miles south of Paris on the Yerres River. His father had purchased land there, including a large home, and it was there on the family's extensively landscaped property where the young Caillebotte first began drawing and painting.
After finishing his schooling Caillebotte completed his law degree in 1868 and received his law license in 1870. Intelligent and ambitious, he was also trained as an engineer. Caillebotte hadn't been out of school for long before he was drafted to serve in the Franco-Prussian war in the Garde Nationale Mobile de la Seine from July 1870 to March 1871.
Following the war, Caillebotte began pursuing his artistic career with increased fervor. He visited the studio of the well-respected academic painter Léon Bonnat, who encouraged him to begin taking a career in art seriously. Bonnat, a Realist painter who had influential friends like the writer Émile Zola and artists Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet, was a teacher at the prestigious École des Beaux Arts. Among Bonnat's more famous students through the years were Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, Georges Braque, Jean Beraud, and Edvard Munch. Caillebotte threw himself enthusiastically into his new vocation, including enrolling in the École des Beaux-Arts in 1873, although he spent very little time there, preferring his own studio in his family's home.
Caillebotte's father died in 1874. His brother Rene died only two years later and in 1878, his mother died, leaving the two remaining sons, Gustave and Martial, to divide the family fortune between them. Around the time that his father died, Caillebotte made some vital connections in the art world, befriending a number of artists who were not involved with the French Academy, including Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and De Nittis. He was a colleague and, in some cases, close friend of some of the most important avant-garde artists of the period.
Caillebotte made his artistic debut in 1876 at the second exhibition of the Impressionists (there were 8 exhibitions total), the loosely knit group of artist also known as the "Independents," the "Intentionalists," and the "Intransigents." In keeping with the Impressionists' avant-garde style, a rejection of academic painting and the formalities of the traditional exhibition protocols of the official Salon, Caillebotte, Renoir, Monet, and others produced small, independent exhibitions of their work.
At the third exhibition in 1876, which Caillebotte helped finance and organize he exhibited eight paintings, including one of his best known works, The Floor Scrapers (1875), which had been rejected by the judges of the Salon of 1875, the official exhibition sponsored by the Académie des Beaux-Arts (French Academy of Fine Arts). As it depicted common laborers planing a wood floor, it was deemed "vulgar." Whereas the artistic establishment might find images of peasants in bucolic settings by well-respected artists like Corot acceptable, representations of the working class produced by Realist painters like Courbet, Manet, Degas, and then Caillebotte (among others) were deemed unacceptable and thus rejected from official recognition.
In addition to being a painter himself, Caillebotte also played a critical role as a major source of patronage and financial support for artists such as Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro who were still endeavoring to attract attention and achieve more widespread success. His family's wealth helped him not only to pursue his own artistic career but it also enabled him to both provide financial support for his artist friends whose means were limited and to collect their work, often buying it at inflated prices. He purchased paintings by Monet, for the first time in 1876, and also paid the rent for some of the artists' studios on a number of occasions.
As a collector, Caillebotte was extremely selective in his sponsorship of specific artists. For example, he never bought the work of either Georges Seurat or Paul Gauguin; additionally, he had no works by the Symbolist artists in his personal collection. On the other hand, he was a major force in convincing the Louvre Museum to buy Manet's controversial painting, Olympia (1863). Caillebotte's collecting extended beyond the arts as well, including his amassing of a world-class stamp collection that is now in the possession of the British Library in London.
By the time of the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877, Caillebotte had become not only a central organizer of what had evolved into an independent, unofficial, and distinctly avant-garde salon, but he was also an important force in the avant garde movement, although his style didn't explore the effects of light. His work was more Realist, on par with early paintings by Monet, as well as the work of Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet. He displayed work in subsequent Impressionist exhibitions, although he famously boycotted the sixth one as he had opposed the inclusion of Degas, a rivalry that underlines how fraught associations in the Impressionist circle actually were. He participated the following year, in the seventh Impressionist exhibition, submitting 17 paintings, although there was turmoil once again as, evidently, Caillebotte and Pissarro were at odds, a situation that Monet mediated with some success. Monet and Caillebotte both refused to participate in the final exhibition in 1886 but, by then, he had all but stopped painting completely.
In 1881, Caillebotte bought a house and property in Petit-Gennevilliers in the northwestern suburbs on the Seine River. He relocated there permanently in 1888. In 1882, he threw himself into a new hobby that consumed a great deal of his time (in addition to other collecting activities and gardening): constructing yachts, which he already had experience racing. He spent the majority of his time with his brother Martial, and his good friend Renoir, who came often to visit the house in Petit-Gennevilliers and enjoyed talking over subjects like philosophy, literature, politics, and art. Caillebotte never married, although he is thought to have had a serious and long-term relationship with a woman named Charlotte Berthier. She was 11 years younger than him and apparently from a lower-class family; when he died, Caillebotte left her a large annuity.
By the early 1890s, Caillebotte was barely painting; he had stopped producing the large, ambitious canvases of previous decades. In 1894, at the age of 45, he was working in the garden at his home in Petit-Gennevilliers when he collapsed, dying suddenly of a stroke. He was buried at the famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery in southeastern Paris.
Following Caillebotte's death, his estate, in keeping with his will, attempted to make a generous donation to the French State. The artist had drafted his will very early in his life, in 1876, following the untimely passing of his brother, Rene. His will read, "I give to the French State the paintings which I have; nevertheless, since I want that this donation be accepted and in such a manner that the paintings go neither in an attic nor in a provincial museum, but...in the Luxembourg Museum and later in the Louvre Museum, it is necessary that a certain time passes before execution of this clause..." He had stipulated that twenty years should pass before the paintings would be turned over by his brother Martial and the executor of his estate, Renoir.
The donation spurred controversy, which underlined how resistant to avant garde art and artists the French Academy still was, even in 1894. Academy officials, with the artist Jean-Leon Gerome in the lead, attempted to prevent the transfer of the works by Impressionists and, by then, important Post-Impressionists like Cézanne, to the French National Museum. The works had been consistently refused admission to the official Salons through the years and the art establishment continued to oppose acceptance of what they referred to as "unhealthy" art, but are now considered some of the most important works of the modernist movements of the late-19th century in France. Only a portion of the works in the collection - pastels by Degas and paintings by Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Cézanne, Millet, and only two by Caillebotte himself - were ultimately accepted. In 1911, nearly 30 others were purchased by Albert C. Barnes, an American physician, businessman, and art collector; the works form the core of what has become the extensive collection of Modernist works of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Until the 1950s, when family members began selling works from their private collection, including paintings by Caillebotte as well as works by other artists he had acquired through the years, the artist's work was for the most part forgotten. Walter P. Chrysler purchased Caillebotte's painting, Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877) and then ten years later, the work was acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago. This brought his work to the attention of American collectors and public. By the 1970s a critical reassessment of his painting was underway.
The Legacy of Gustave Caillebotte
Caillebotte's style, which so outraged critics and academics in his day, conversely inspired artists who followed him to use some of his more radical compositional techniques. For instance, the often highly unusual perspectives - looking from below up a slanting floor, gazing down from a non-descript perch or standing on the edge of an intimate scene - and the unconventional cropping resembling photographs were features of paintings by avant-garde artists ranging from Van Gogh to Picasso. The use of photographs to construct images became commonplace extending even to the Photorealists (also known as Hyperrealist or Super-realists) of the 1970s.
He is also credited not only with influencing painters but also photographers such as Jeff Wall, whose 1982 work, Mimic, uses extreme perspectives and also emphasizes class tension as was so strongly the case with, for example, Caillebotte's Pont de l'Europe. Caillebotte's legacy as a patron is also more than noteworthy as the works he bequeathed to the French State created the foundation for the country's extensive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings as well as the renowned Barnes Collection in the United States.