Gustave Caillebotte is one of my two favorite “ignored” Impressionists. (The other being Alfred Sisley, who simply doesn’t get the respect he deserves.) Like Sisley, I find Caillebotte to be less formulaic and slavish to the “ideals” of Impressionism, and more likely to paint directly, leaning a bit more toward Courbet’s realism than the “major” Impressionist painters.
Caillebotte was a man of means and was a patron and collector of Impressionist art as well as a painter, and organized (read “financed”) many of the Impressionist exhibitions. He is also credited with introducing Impressionist art to museums by posthumously donating many of the great pieces in his collection to the French government, which accepted the controversial art very reluctantly.
He was also different from the other impressionists in his choice of subject and light conditions. Although he would occasionally paint the kind of sun-drenched countryside and riverbank scenes that were staple subjects for the “painters of light”, Caillebotte often chose a darker palette and was actually more likely to paint landscapes and city scenes in overcast conditions, or even when it was actually raining or snowing, something more common in Japanese and Chinese art at the time than European art.
He also often painted interiors in which, like Degas, he would challenge the formal compositions of the Academic painters by showing a large area of floor and a small area of the rest of the room, as in The Floor Scrapers and The Floor Strippers. Although not the draughtsman that Degas was, his figures and portraits also brought him closer to Degas than to the other Impressionists who did figurative work.
Caillebotte is responsible for some of my very favorite Impressionist images, such as Rooftops under Snow and Riverbank in the Rain (above left). His most widely recognized work depicts a Paris street in the rain; that and the rooftops are usually the only images of his you see in books on Impressionism, if he is mentioned at all.
While he was working Caillebotte was reviled by the art establishment along with the other Impressionist painters. When the art critics finally woke up and realized the power of Impressionist works, he was still dissed off as “minor” and mentioned more as a patron then a painter. Fortunately Caillebotte is receiving renewed interest in recent years from the people who actually matter (i.e. you and I) and the art establishment is sluggishly coming around to recognizing him as the major painter that he was. Who knows, maybe there’s hope for poor Alfred as well.
There is an excellent volume on his life, work and working method, Gustave Caillebotte by Kirk Varnedoe, as well as several other books out there about him. I give several links below to galleries. There are brief bios here and here.
After being dazzled by Monet’s explosions of light and color, it’s easy to miss the quiet, subtle magic that infuses Caillebotte’s paintings. Give him a chance and he’ll wow you with the haunting beauty of subdued light, mist, rain and cloudy skies.