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Sunday, October 4, 2015

The last 'Rainy Day' in Washington at the National Gallery of Art

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877, The Art Institute of Chicago.  This work anchored the exhibition at the National Gallery of Art.

Dear Readers, I regret to inform you that I am late posting about this magnificent show ending today at the National Gallery of Art, and I can only hope this brief description will provide a glimpse of the French artist, Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)  the man who would be lawyer,  engineer, collector,  feminist, and an Impressionist realist artist himself whose works increase in stature, interest,  and reputation with every passing year. 

Fifty of Caillebotte's paintings prove it in The Painter's Eye.

Family money allowed Caillebotte to collect art, and that he did, at a time when Impressionism was in its infancy and still quite controversial.  He bought art by Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Degas, Manet, and Cezanne, among others, and gave many to museums and to the French government which vetoed some of his gifts.  (Years later, when the government came calling, Caillebotte's sister-in-law refused to give the government the art pieces it had initially rejected.)

Caillebotte did not need to sell his own works to eat, and he seldom marketed his paintings.
Gustave Caillebotte, Luncheon, 1876, Private Collection.  

Caillebotte drew Luncheon not long after his father died.  The viewer becomes a guest at the table where Caillebotte's younger brother, Rene, dives into his food, not waiting on the butler to finish serving his mother.  A year later, Rene was dead at age 25 which led Gustave to write his will early, including disposition of his art collection.
Gustave Caillebotte, Self Portrait, 1888-1889, Private Collection
Gustave Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers, 1875,
Musée d'Orsay, Paris, Gift of Caillebotte's heirs through the intermediary of Auguste Renoir, 1894

The Floor Scrapers, a scene the painter may have drawn from his own studio and considered Caillebotte's first masterpiece, was rejected by the Paris art establishment in 1875 because the workers were considered "vulgar," and not acceptable as representatives in art of the working class.  Only peasants and farmers were sanctioned.
Gustave Caillebotte, Man on a Balcony, Boulevard Haussmann, 1880, Private Collection.  In 2000 this sold for more than $14.3 million.
Gustave Caillebotte, Interior, Woman at the Window, 1880,  Private Collection 

I like to think of Mr. Caillebotte as a feminist.  Compare Man on a Balcony with Interior, Woman at the Window.  Note the man's cavalier stance, his debonair position of strength and confidence as he gazes out upon the Paris scene below.  "Harrumph," he seems to complain:  "What manner goes here?  I do not know if I approve." Perhaps there are too many floor scrapers idling at lunch, 

Meanwhile, in contrast is the woman, above, in funereal garb, standing in her "cage," the railing which is much higher than the man's, mind adrift, thinking, perhaps, "what if?" while looking out beyond to the figure in the window across the way.  Adjacent there in the chair is her keeper and bored husband:  "Shhhh!  Can't you see I am reading?" his position suggests.

The Gallery wall label says these two paintings may have been a pair. 
Gustave Caillebotte, Interior, a Woman Reading, 1880, Private Collection 

And what in the world do you make of this little shrimp of a man lying on the sofa, about half the size of the woman in the chair?  He reminds me of The Incredible Shrinking Man, and maybe that's what he is to his mate.  The same couple pictured in Interior, Woman at the Window (above)? As the length of their relationship grows, his importance diminishes.
Gustave Caillebotte, The Bridge at Argenteuil, 1883, Private Collection
Gustave Caillebotte, The Fields, a Plain in Gennevilliers, Study in Yellow and Green, 1884, Collection of Frederic C. Hamilton, Bequest to the Denver Art Museum

You see what you missed!  

Alas, not all is lost, however, since a fine catalog, Gustave Caillebotte:  A Painter's Eye of almost 300 pages is available, and you may wish to see the show at
the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth where it opens November 8 through February 14, 2016.  The Kimbell and the National Gallery co-organized the exhibition.

patricialesli@gmail.com

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