Lines and Colors art blog

Gustave Caillebotte

Gustav CaillebotteGustave 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.



12 responses to “Gustave Caillebotte”

  1. This is another terrific choice – he’s a great, great painter, and Rooftops Under Snow is one of my favorite paintings, period. As a body, the Impressionist’s winter scenes seem to get less attention than the more brilliantly colored “light” scenes, but personally I prefer them. There’s a pretty good book available devoted to them called “Impressionists in Winter : Effets de Neige” by Charles S. Moffett et. al., ISBN = 0856674958. Those who enjoy the top picture of this post may want to have a look at this book.

    So when are you going to post about Sisley? 🙂

  2. Sadly Rooftops Under Snow was on loan when I visited the Orsay (maybe next visit). Thanks for the heads-up about the book on Impressionist snow scenes! I’ll definately look for that. Sisley’s certainly on the list, but it’s a long list .

  3. Here’s an Amazon link for the book: Impressionists in Winter : Effets de Neige. Looks great.

  4. Thank you for opening my eyes to the work of Caillebotte, I appear to have grievously underestimated him. I think that one of the things that I like about the work is that the light appears closer to what I am used to in N. Ireland, as against the brilliant light of sunnier countries!

  5. Thomas,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m always delighted when someone says I’m engcouraged their appreciation for an artist they had underestimated.

  6. i have seen some of callibottes work and it is great. the rainy day was in a hall near a window and it was raining on the day i saw it. i think the art institute of chicago arranged the rain for me, anyway i have been in love with him every since. the situation was too peerfect. the floor scrapers was in the same show. thands

  7. G. H. Avatar

    Just saw my first G. Callebotte at the new “Block Collection” at the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City .
    Really jumped out!
    “Boat on the Seine” blue was mesmorizing clear across the room.
    Just added him to my list.
    Go see it!

  8. wow I can’t wait to see the Callebotte exhibit in Brooklyn. The last time I was surprised and overwhelmed about discovering an artist I knew little or nothing about was when I stumbled upon a Childe Hassam exhibit, which I won’t forget. Thank you too for the info about the Impressionists in Winter book. The painting Rooftops Under Snow looks like the view from our hotel balcony in Paris- a highlight of our lives.
    Thanks so much!

  9. Mike Michaels Avatar
    Mike Michaels

    I saw Impressionist in Winter, Effets de Neige in 1999 at the San Francisco MOMA, after, it traveled there from the Phillips. It was one of those handful of shows I’ve just wandered into that blew me away: I bought the book then and there. And while the show featured every post-Manet Impressionist of note (including Sisley but missing Cezanne, who may have simply preferred to work in the heat)it was Caillebotte’s roof-top paintings that left me staggered.

    Unlike every other painter in the show, when I looked at Caillebotte’s colors from close-up- there was nothing but an infinite complexity of color upon color: exactly the same feeling one gets from Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series. And in fact, in Varnedoe’s book – which I just read tonight – quotes a vicious review of the 1878 show in which View of Rooftops (Snow) was first shown, including “One the other hand, should we prefer him now that he gives us almost forty canvases dominated by a palette of bluish tones ranging through all its shadows, and on which color can no longer contain itself, or reels like a bacchante [party-girl]?”

    Couldn’t have said it better. Unfortunately, Varnedoe focusses primarily of the structure of Callebotte’s work – as had the artist’s first retrospective show, which Varnedoe had co-curated for the Brooklyn Museum – unbelievably in 1977 – which I saw a year later in Minneapolis. And yeah, I came away from it thinking only about his (then) radical use of perspective. But Impressionists in Winter changed everything! Then too, he wasn’t painting rooftops, these were simply covers for the use of abstract geometric form! (Fully anticipating Cezanne, thank you.)

    That, and Caillebotte’s first major canvas, Raboteurs de parquet (Floor-scrapers), 1875 was shown only 4 years after he began to study painting! An under-appreciated genius, all the way around.

    1. Thanks for the insight, Mike. One of my few disappointments from my one and only visit to Paris was that Rooftops in Snow was away on loan when I was there.

  10. Hi- I enjoyed learning more about Caillebotte. He and Sisley are among my favorite Impressionists, as well. Do you have any idea what Caillebotte’s palette colors were?

    1. Sorry, not directly, I do know that he changed his palette from his early, more academic approach to one influenced by the other Impressionist painters. You could probably extrapolate from the palettes used for these paintings: (click on the individual paintings for palette information).