Lines and Colors art blog

Gustave Caillebotte: Impressionist Paintings from Paris to the Sea

Gustave Caillebotte
As I pointed out in my previous post about Gustave Caillebotte, he is one of my two favorite underappreciated French Impressionist painters (along with Alfred Sisley).

Though he was not the draughtsman Degas was (few were), or as facile with brush and color as Monet or Pissarro, Caillebotte nonetheless epitomized many of the characteristics we associate with French Impressionism, the bright strokes and dabs of pure color, optically blended into luxuriously beautiful images of gardens, rivers and brightly dressed members of the leisure class enjoying the sun.

It is in his differences from the other Impressionist painters, though, that he resonates most strongly for me. I think it’s in his subtle appreciation for shadow, soft light, rain, fog and snow that he displays his greatest visual poetry.

He also differs form the other French Impressionists in that his approach often leaned more toward realism; putting him, perhaps, in the company of the American Impressionists and others who adopted the Impressionist palette and free brushwork, but without abandoning the realist underpinnings from Academic painting that Monet and Pissaro rejected. He was also one of the first painters to be fascinated with and influenced by then new art of photography.

Caillebotte was an engineer by training, but also studied at the Ecole des beaux-Arts, and became acquainted with Degas, Renoir and Monet early on. He became a supporter and patron of his friends’ work, using his considerable family resources to purchase paintings for himself (often at prices well above their market value, basically to help them survive and keep painting) and to organize the Impressionist exhibitions in Paris.

It was Caillebotte’s eventual donation of his collection of Impressionist works to the French government, which at first was refused at the urging of the conservative Academy, and only later accepted in part (40 of the 60 offered), which now forms the core of the Impressionist collections in the Musée d’Orsay.

Many of the remainder (lesser in terms of quality) were sold to American physician and art collector Albert Barnes, and are here in Philadelphia in the collection of the Barnes Foundation. Others are in museums and collections around the world.

His own work received less respect after his death than the works he collected, but his reputation is being restored as public appreciation for his work gains ground.

Gustave Caillebotte: Impressionist Paintings from Paris to the Sea is an exhibition currently at the Brooklyn Museum (until July 5, 2009). It features about 40 paintings showing a range of Caillebotte’s work and subjects, though it focuses in large part on paintings of activities on and around the Yerres and Petit Gennevillers rivers near his family’s estates, like Skiffs (above, top, sometimes called The Oarsmen).

There is a catalog accompanying the exhibition (hardback only, I believe this is the same book on Amazon).

Much to my delight, the exhibit includes one of my favorite paintings, Yerres Riverbank in the Rain (above, bottom, larger version here, unfortunately not well reproduced; smaller but a little better here).

This is not a dramatic Impressionist painting, busting with sunlight and brilliant color; quite the opposite, in fact — subtle, quiet; a gentle suggestion of a painting, with the soft light and subtle colors of a summer shower, but so evocative you can smell the rain.


12 responses to “Gustave Caillebotte: Impressionist Paintings from Paris to the Sea”

  1. I loved the comment about being able to smell the rain. I looked at the second picture again, and could indeed remember that sensation.

  2. All I can smell is the off-whack perspective in those ripples! You need a lot of practice to do that freehand…..

  3. I wouldn’t say he is an “underappreciated” impressionist, but maybe you are right.
    Indeed his paintings are very strong. Have you seen this one:

    Mario / NeoSublime

  4. Thanks, all, for the comments.

    Mario, I haven’t seen that one in person, but a similar painting is in the Brooklyn Museum show: Floor Scrapers.

  5. Great article 🙂

    I have one of his works on my desktop – Rainy Day…

    Btw – I really like this whole blog! Keep up the good work!


  6. Beautiful! Thanks for the link!

  7. He’s one my of favourite artists too – my favourite painting is the Floor Scrapers. I must go and reread your previous post.

    He was also a very keen gardener and another of the paintings I like a lot is of his kitchen garden.

    I wish I could see this exhibition!

  8. Caillebotte is one of my all-time favorite painters. I am very familiar with his work, but thanks for posting this beautiful entry with the bottom photo which I had never seen. I’ve had the good fortune to view many of his incredible paintings up close.

  9. steve Avatar

    “Minor” impressionist for a reason. For every Floor Scrapers there are ten forgettable pieces. The two shown are a perfect example. The second piece shown is one of his better examples. The first is just OK. One of his greatest contribution to art was his behind the scenes support of many of the other struggling impressionists who’s work he purchased.

  10. Caillebotte’s greatness as an artist, of course, should not be obscured by its value as a patron of the arts. His paintings he spoke more than they could see his contemporaries.

  11. Alex Toohey Avatar
    Alex Toohey

    Interesting painter, interesting history – but the Barnes Foundation advise in October 2016 that they do NOT hold any of the works rejected by the French government.
    Any ideas where they might be?

    1. Thanks, Alex. I hadn’t heard, so I don’t know the most up to date information on those works.