March 21, 2009

Under Caillebotte's Umbrella

Gustave Caillebotte was a French painter and a generous patron of the Impressionists. I would hazard a guess and say most people know his work from the fitting image seen on many umbrellas available in today’s gift shops, Paris Street; Rainy Day.

Caillebotte was born August 19, 1848 into a wealthy family who had made their money in textiles and real estate during the redevelopment of Paris in the 1860s.

Gustave Caillebotte had a law degree but he was also an engineer. He also attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. After inheriting his father’s fortune in 1874 he befriended the Impressionists Degas, Monet, and Renoir. Caillebotte helped them to organize and fund their first major group exhibition in Paris. As the only one with any serious financial means, Caillebotte would become the main patron and supporter of the group.

In 1875, wishing to make own his public artistic debut, he submitted a painting, The Floor Scrapers, to the Paris Salon, whose jury promptly rejected it. Caillebotte then decided to exhibit the painting in a more accepting environment, and showed it at the second Impressionist group exhibition of 1876.

Caillebotte's Paris Street; Rainy Day, considered his masterpiece, was shown at the Impressionist Exhibition of 1877. It shared the spotlight with Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Ball at the Moulin de la Galette. Its massive size, almost 7 feet by 10 feet, drew a great deal of attention and dominated the 1877 exhibition which was largely organized by Caillebotte himself

The wealthy and generous, Caillebotte often underwrote the costs incurred for the exhibitions of his friend’s work. He financially supported his colleagues by constantly purchasing their paintings at inflated prices.

He himself participated in later public exhibitions and painted some 500 works although in a more realistic style than that of his friends.

Caillebotte died of pulmonary congestion in 1894. On his death, his superb collection of Impressionist paintings was left to the French government who accepted it with considerable reluctance. At the time of his death, the Impressionists were shunned and condemned by the art establishment in France. Well aware of this, Caillebotte stipulated in his will that the paintings in his collection must not end up in attics or provincial museums.

Caillebotte's collection consisted of a staggering sixty-eight paintings by various artists: 19 by Pissarro, 14 by Monet, 10 by Renoir, 9 by Sisley, 7 by Degas, 5 by Cézanne, and 4 by Manet.

In 1897, a room named in Gustave Caillebotte’s honour opened in Paris’s Luxembourg Palace and displayed the first ever exhibition of Impressionist paintings in a French museum. It contained only 38 of the paintings that Caillebotte had left to the state. The other twenty-nine paintings (one went to Renoir as payment for executing his will) were offered to the French government in 1904, and again in 1908, and both times the government refused to take them. A change of heart in 1928 encouraged the French government to claim the paintings but they were refused. Most of the remaining works were bought by Albert C. Barnes, and are now held by the Barnes Foundation of Philadelphia.

Forty of Caillebotte's works are now housed at the Musée d'Orsay.


Pillina Melancholy said...

Nice paintings.

willow said...

His "Floor Scrapers" is one of my favorites. Lovely post!

willow said...

And I forgot to mention, that Paris Street; Rainy Day is so wonderful in person! One of my faves in Chicago.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

I thought I knew a bit about the impressionists, but I did not know this Caillebotte - I love the light in the paintings you have selected, and what a pity he was not recognised during his lifetime... thank you for sharing them with us.

Dot-Com said...

Those are really great paintings!

K. said...

Thanks for educating me about an artist and patron I was unfamiliar with. Is there a bio of him?

The Floor Scrapers is almost photographic -- Caillebotte must have been one of the first artists to experiment with photorealism.

And that self-portrait -- wow! That gaze: Is he looking at me, past me, through me? Is he looking back or ahead? And at what? There's a combination of fear, knowledge, and defiance that I've never quite seen, like an escaped inmate of existence. And the color palette is so modern. Just on that painting alone I'd connect Caillebotte with Melville as an existentialist before there were existentialists. Just brilliant.

Penney said...

I really and truly enjoyed this. It's so incredible what happened to these magnificant and talented works..
Thank you,

Anna said...

I went to the Chicago Art Museum as a senior in high school. The Paris Streets painting was bar far the most breathtaking to me. Thank you for bringing back this memory.

John-Michael said...

How very delicious! These works, and the tale of their place in our world, have combined to make for a lovely, welcoming start to this day. I thank you for that.

Lovingly ...

The Clever Pup said...


Interesting you should say that. Emil Zola had this to say about Caillebotte's painting,

"Caillebotte exposed "The floor scrapers" and "Young man at his window" , of an astonishing relief. However, it is a completely anti-artistic painting , a painting clear like glass, of a middle-class kind by its exactitude. The photography of reality, when it is not enhanced by the original print of artistic talent, is a pitiful thing ".

Amazon has a multitude of books about him.

giulia said...

I loved this...I forgot all about him, perhaps since university. Thank you, CP, for this wonderful addition to my lunch hour!

Gal Friday said...

While I am familiar with the Rainy Day painting(which I often confuse in my mind with Childe Hassam's "Rainy Day In Boston"-similar street view and subject matter, different color palette), I was not much aware of this painter. "The Floor Scrapers"--from this small view here, I think it is a wonderful painting. Don't know that I'll ever get to Paris to see these paintings , but thanks for teaching me al ittle about Caillebotte. (I love the self portrait, too)

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

Smart man, that Mr. Barnes!

sallymandy said...

Thanks Hazel! Another interesting artist whose work I've seen from time to time but didn't know anything about. I love reading these posts of yours.

Also enjoying the pix of you.