Caillebotte’s garden

From Joelle Stepien Bailard on Facebook, this wonderful 1878 painting by Gustave Caillebotte, The Orange Trees, or The Artist’s Brother in His Garden:


It’s like a snapshot photo — people caught in the midst of going about their day — while being carefully composed formally (the dog lying on the path is an important feature in the composition) and combining highly realistic elements (the metal chairs, in particular) with some impressionist elements (the flowers, in particular). Complex and satisfying.

Then an exchange with Joelle:

Arnold Zwicky: Caillebotte is underappreciated, I think.

Joelle Stepien Bailard > Arnold Zwicky: I agree. I often feel he was too sophisticated to be properly appreciated in his own time.

As it turns out, his time eventually came, but that was in the 1960s, long after he died, young, in 1894.

The opening of the Wikipedia entry establishes some of these themes; the tension between them is one of the things that make his works so satisfying to me:

Gustave Caillebotte (19 August 1848 – 21 February 1894) was a French painter who was a member and patron of the Impressionists, although he painted in a more realistic manner than many others in the group. Caillebotte was noted for his early interest in photography as an art form.

Earlier on this blog, my 8/13/15 posting “Ice cream, roadside fiberglass, Caillebotte, and more”, about a Zippy strip:

It shows our Pinhead talking French Impressionism with a roadside ice cream stand that happens to be a fiberglass replica of an ice cream cone … Degas (gauzy ballerinas), Monet (soft-focus water lilies), but especially Gustave Caillebotte: men scraping floors and flying, drying, laundry.

That posting has a section on the artist, which quotes Wikipedia:

His art was largely forgotten until the 1950s when his descendents began to sell the family collection. In 1964, The Art Institute of Chicago acquired Paris Street; Rainy Day, spurring American interest in the artist.

That painting:


From my posting:

Caillebotte did at least two paintings of laundry drying — the one below (Laundry Drying, Petit Gennevilliers, 1892) and Laundry Drying on the Banks of the Seine, ca. 1892:


Then the scrapers, or planers:


The Wikipedia analysis. The entry has an exceptionally detailed and thoughtful discussion of Caillebotte’s work (going far beyond what I was attempting to compose), so I will simply quote large chunks of it:

… With regard to the composition and painting style of his works, Caillebotte may be considered part of the first movement after Impressionism: Neo-Impressionism. The second period of Pointillism, whose main representative was Georges Seurat, announced its influence in the late works that Caillebotte painted at his country house in Petit Gennevilliers. Caillebotte’s style belongs to the School of Realism but was strongly influenced by his Impressionist associates. In common with his precursors Jean-François Millet and Gustave Courbet, as well his contemporary Degas, Caillebotte aimed to paint reality as it existed and as he saw it, hoping to reduce the inherent theatricality of painting. Perhaps because of his close relationship with so many of his peers, his style and technique vary considerably among his works, as if “borrowing” and experimenting, but not really sticking to any one style. At times, he seems very much in the Degas camp of rich-colored realism (especially his interior scenes); at other times, he shares the Impressionist commitment to “optical truth” and employs an impressionistic pastel-softness and loose brush strokes most similar to Renoir and Pissarro, although with a less vibrant palette.

The tilted ground common to these paintings is characteristic of Caillebotte’s work, which may have been strongly influenced by Japanese prints and the new technology of photography, although evidence of his use of photography is lacking. Cropping and “zooming-in”, techniques that commonly are found in Caillebotte’s oeuvre, may also be the result of his interest in photography, but may just as likely be derived from his intense interest in perspective effects. A large number of Caillebotte’s works also employ a very high vantage point, including View of Rooftops (Snow) (Vue de toits (Effet de neige)) (1878), Boulevard Seen from Above (Boulevard vu d’en haut) (1880), and A Traffic Island (Un refuge, boulevard Haussmann) (1880).

Caillebotte painted many domestic and familial scenes, interiors, and portraits. Many of his paintings depict members of his family; Young Man at His Window (Jeune Homme à la fenêtre) (1875) shows René in the home on rue de Miromesnil; The Orange Trees (Les Orangers) (1878) [#1 above], depicts Martial Jr. and his cousin Zoé in the garden of the family property at Yerres; and Portraits in the Country (Portraits à la campagne) (1875) includes Caillebotte’s mother along with his aunt, cousin, and a family friend. There are scenes of dining, card playing, piano playing, reading, and sewing, all executed in an intimate, unobtrusive manner that portrays the quiet ritual of upper-class indoor life.

His country scenes at Yerres focus on pleasure boating on the leisurely stream as well as fishing and swimming, and domestic scenes around his country home. He often used a soft impressionistic technique reminiscent of Renoir to convey the tranquil nature of the countryside, in sharp contrast to the flatter, smoother strokes of his urban paintings. In Oarsman in a Top Hat (1877), he effectively manages the perspective of a passenger in the back of a rowboat facing his rowing companion and the stream ahead, in a manner much more realistic and involving than Manet’s Boating (1874).

Caillebotte is best known for his paintings of urban Paris, such as The Europe Bridge (Le Pont de l’Europe) (1876), and Paris Street; Rainy Day (Rue de Paris; temps de pluie, also known as La Place de l’Europe, temps de pluie) (1877) [#2 above]. The latter is almost unique among his works for its particularly flat colors and photo-realistic effect, which give the painting its distinctive and modern look, almost akin to American Realists such as Edward Hopper. Many of his urban paintings were quite controversial due to their exaggerated, plunging perspective. In Man on a Balcony (1880), he invites the viewer to share the balcony with his subject and join in observing the scene of the city reaching into the distance, again by using unusual perspective.


Showing little allegiance to any one style, many of Caillebotte’s other urban paintings produced in the same period, such as The Place Saint-Augustin (1877), are considerably more impressionistic.

Caillebotte’s still life paintings focus primarily on food, some at table ready to be eaten and some ready to be purchased, as in a series of paintings he made of meat at a butcher shop. He also produced some floral still-life paintings, particularly in the 1890s. Rounding out his subject matter, he painted a few nudes, including Homme au bain (1884) [AZ note: a male nude, but not posed, instead apparently just caught after taking a bath]


and Nude on a Couch (1882), which, although provocative in its realism, is ambivalent in its mood — neither overtly erotic nor suggestive of mythology — themes common to many nude paintings of women during that era.

Hard not to pile on still more images, showing the variety and complexity of his work.

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