Patron of the arts, financial supporter of many Impressionists and all ’round good dude, Gustave Caillebotte was also an accomplished painter – though not quite an Impressionist himself. He had the good fortune of being fabulously wealthy. He developed a fine realist style, seen here in this large painting of a rainy Paris street (You can see the real thing at the Museum of Art in Chicago.)
We owe Mr. Caillebotte a debt of gratitude. Without his participation and patronage, it may well be likely the Impressionists would have enjoyed considerably less success. Caillebotte was very generous with his wealth and would buy paintings at inflated prices, and provide financial support to artists such as Monet, Pissaro and Renoir. He was a critical player in organizing, and helping to finance many of the famed Impressionist exhibitions.
Paris Street, Rainy Day, (1877)
108″w X 83″h
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Mr. Caillebotte was a great friend to the Impressionists – he even exhibited with them – but his style is more realistic than is common in the group. No matter. His subject matter certainly has the feel of Impressionist work. You can almost smell the wet pavement, and hear the footsteps and horse hooves, in this Paris scene. The composition is tremendous in it’s use of perspective – the way the avenues recede into the distance, the whole effect enhanced by those wet pavement stones. It’s an ordinary day in Paris… yet he has composed a view that is extraordinary. Busy on the right, open on the left. Rooftops fading into the distance. We might have seen this scene, were we there, but Caillebotte has grabbed the perfect moment for us.
Caillebotte was a multi-faceted fellow: Trained as an engineer and a lawyer, he was also a painter, arts patron, solider (Franco-Prussian War), horticulturalist, boat designer and racer, and one of the first to recognize photography as an art form. He died young: 46 years old.
Did Caillebotte use photographs to compose his paintings? He and his brother were photographers (an art in it’s infancy). Though no actual evidence has been found, there are some historians that think so, and seem to think this devalues the work somehow. But really, guys, tons of artists have used photography or mechanical aids (like Vermeer’s maybe camera obscura) to make their images. Does it really matter? He clearly has the ability to paint well, to compose well, and to choose scenes that affect us.
Another Fun Fact: I’ve long known of this painting – since I was about 10 years old. How? Was I an erudite young lad, schooled in art history? An art prodigy of some kind? No. Not at all. I was the owner of the game “Masterpiece: An Art Auction Game” by Parker Brothers. The game had cards of famous paintings and there was some sort of auction involved. Sorry to say I don’t recall. But I did learn a lot of paintings by playing.