On the Trail of Heroic Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte

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On the Trail of Heroic Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte
“Who knows M. Caillebotte? Where does M. Caillebotte come from? In what school was M. Caillebotte trained? Nobody has been able to inform me. All I know is M. Caillebotte is one of the most original painters who has come to light for several years and I don’t fear compromising myself by predicting he will be famous before long.” Since art critic Marius Chaumelin said these words in April of 1876, the pieces of Monsieur Gustave Caillebotte’s life have fallen into place and we can follow Caillebotte’s path throughout Paris and the circle of the Impressionists. Gustave Caillebotte was born August 19, 1848 into an upwardly mobile family that would soon become very rich. Caillebotte would spend the first 20 years of his life at 160 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis (later renumbered as 152). The building was demolished when the rue des Deux-Gares was built straight through their lot. The Caillebottes made their money in textiles and were contracted to supply the French army with camp beds. They augmented their wealth by investing in real estate during the redevelopment of Paris in the 1860s. Les jardiniers (1875) Private collection. Photo credit © Gustave Caillebotte -, Wikipedia. Public domain Young Caillebotte was a bit of a dilettante and because of careful investing by his father and the subsequent deaths of his father, stepmother and brother, he became a millionaire by the age of 30. He earned his degree in law by 1870. He was with the National Guard – the Seine Garde Mobile – during the Franco-Prussian war up until 1871. He joined the art studio of Jean Bonnat in 1872 and passed the entrance exam to the École des Beaux-Arts in 1873 when he was 25. His attendance there was short lived. He felt constrained by academic teaching and was soon drawn to what would be known as Impressionism. Then why label him heroic? Caillebotte organized the Impressionist exhibitions, paid for the publication of advertising, collected art from the painters, paid their rent, tried to calm their squabbles, and provided food and board. He bought his colleagues art and left a huge collection of Impressionist art to the State under a very specific stipulation. Without Caillebotte’s influence, the world would be left with a weaker form of Impressionism than that which endures today. Caillebotte featured both modern, urban subjects from unusual Parisian vantage points and his bucolic surroundings on the Yerres river. Caillebotte’s paintings display his great sensitivity to light and the violet of his atmospheric shadows is incomparable. Demonstrations of masculinity seemed more important to him than painting pretty women, but on the other hand, some years he just painted food, or flowers or portraits. He loved the contrast of light and dark interiors and what lay outside his window frames. Many of Caillebotte’s pictures have an aura of peace and solitude as if his subjects were absorbed in a dream, turned either in on oneself or outward to a spectacle. Gustave Caillebotte (right) and his brother, Martial. Photo credit © author unknown, Wikipedia. Public domain

Lead photo credit : Caillebotte in his greenhouse (February 1892), Petit Gennevilliers. Photo credit © author unknown, Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.


  • Michael Kalanty
    2021-02-13 04:33:30
    Michael Kalanty
    This is a super story, Hazel. Your writing style is comfortable and the pace moves along. (Not at all like so many art historical pieces, don't you agree?) I got my masters many years ago and can still remember the volumes of books and articles I used to read daily while in school. Your story made me want to keep reading, even though I was on my desktop, which generally limits my attention span. I know of Caillebotte and have seen may of his works, several times and different places. But I never knew his backstory, that he was wealthy, and that he basically bankrolled the Impressionist movement. Truly an interesting perspective to further enrich my knowledge. Thanks for writing such a fun and interesting tale. MIchael www.MichaelKalanty.com


  • Virginia S Bornholdt
    2021-02-05 08:50:21
    Virginia S Bornholdt
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this wonderful account of Gustave Caillebotte and his contributions, both artistic and financial to the Impressionist Movement. I have always wished to be more knowledgeable about art and in particular Impressionism. I spent my career teaching French on the secondary level and wished I had had a better background from which to draw to enrich my students' cultural appreciation of the French artists. The paintings throughout the article added much to the enjoyment of all the anecdotal information about Caillebotte and his colleagues . He died much to young and yet had accomplished so much in his relatively short life.


  • Beth Gersh-Nesic
    2021-02-05 03:39:24
    Beth Gersh-Nesic
    Brilliant, Hazel! One of my favorite artists. Bravo! And thank you.