The Eyes

The Eyes

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye at the National Gallery of Art

The Floor Scrapers | 1875
Oil on Canvas
Musée d'Orsay | Paris
The artistic career of Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894) began with failure. In 1875 the jury of the Salon, the French government’s elite art exhibition held annually in Paris, rejected his submission, The Floor Scrapers. Painted earlier that year, Caillebotte’s picture of shirtless, working-class men hand-planing wood floors did not appeal to the conservative sensibilities of the jurors, who were confounded by its vulgar subject matter and unsettling perspective. Although his depiction of modern urban life put off the Salon jury, it caught the eye of several impressionist painters, who persuaded him to join the group’s second exhibition the following year. Displayed alongside paintings by Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Claude Monet, Caillebotte’s work garnered considerable critical attention. It was not only praised for being excessively original and a “faithful representation of life,” but also criticized for its un-idealized subject. 

Caillebotte was thrilled by the impressionists’ fresh, radical vision. Over the next six years he participated regularly in their exhibitions, submitting paintings of the people and places he encountered in and around Paris. Caillebotte established himself as an artistic force in the group, as well as a vital organizer who helped curate and finance their exhibitions. During his brief career he also became a significant patron, amassing a collection of more than seventy works, including masterpieces by Degas and Renoir as well as Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley. 

Despite these accomplishments, Caillebotte remains perhaps the least known of the French impressionists. Because of his secure finances—derived from his father’s successful textile business—he had no need to earn an income from his art. He therefore did not sell his pictures, and few entered public collections. After he bequeathed his collection to the state, it became the cornerstone of impressionist art in French national museums. But the impressive bequest, which included only two of his own works, overshadowed his artistic achievements and further contributed to his obscurity. 

More than a half century after his death at age forty-five, interest in Caillebotte’s art began to reemerge. Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye continues this rediscovery, gathering his best work for a fresh look. The exhibition not only includes his most famous cityscapes and interiors, but also shows his artistic range with a selection of portraits, nudes, river scenes, still lifes, and landscapes. The exhibition runs from June 28 through October 4, 2015 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Paris Street, Rainy Day | 1877
Oil on Canvas
The Art Institute of Chicago

Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington

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