The Forgotten Caillebotte Paintings
Gustave Caillebotte paintings were dismissed for decades by art historians, despite the fact that he was a significant member of the 19th century Parisian Impressionism art movement. Why?
Gustave Caillebotte was smart
Caillebotte was born in 1848 into a very wealthy Parisian family. He studied both engineering and law. Shortly after finishing his studies, the Franco-Prussian war broke out and he fought in the war for just under a year.
In 1873, when his father dies, Caillebotte inherits a great fortune which provides him with financial independence for the rest of his life. This gives him the luxury of painting without the pressure of selling – the perfect scenario for any artist!
Caillebotte’s paintings are admired by the Impressionists
In 1875 Caillebotte submits a painting of floor scrapers to the esteemed Paris Salon. The Salon rejects the painting but the impressionist painters Edgar Degar and Auguste Renoir love it. They ask Caillebotte to exhibit together with them and the other impressionists.
Gustave Caillebotte’s painting, depicting shirtless laborers scraping a wooden floor, becomes one of the biggest hits at the second impressionist exhibition in 1876. The art critics describe the painting as “crude” and “vulgar” while others loved its “frank intimacy” and “truth”. (Today it hangs in the famous Musée d’Orsay).
Wealthy Caillebotte – the art patron of the Impressionists
Caillebotte was wealthy and generous. He greatly admired the avant garde style of the impressionism painters. So much so, that throughout his life, he bought paintings at prices much higher than the market price from his friends. This way he was able to financially help them and enable them to continue their painting. He was their significant art patron.
Caillebotte – An organizer & financer of Impressionism exhibitions
Caillebotte took on the role of organizing, curating and financing the 3th, 4th, 5th and 7th Impressionist exhibitions, as well as participating in them. In these exhibitions, the subject matter of Caillebotte’s paintings were of people and landmarks in and around Paris.
Caillebotte leaves Paris for peace & quiet and gardening
In 1881, Caillebotte decides to leave busy Paris. He buys a house with a garden in Petit-Gennevilliers. It is here where he creates many beautiful paintings. Like Monet, Caillebotte is a keen gardener and spends a lot of his free time working in his garden. Caillebotte was also a racing yachtsman, and a designer and builder of boats.
Caillebotte painted around 500 artworks in a more realistic style than that of his Impressionist peers. He captured a range of subjects on his canvases, including cityscapes, portraits, nudes, river scenes, still lifes and landscapes.
Like many of his Impressionism and Post-Impressionism colleagues, Japanese art, and in particular, ukiyo-e woodblock printmaking influenced Caillebotte’s artwork.The everyday scenes captured in the Japanese prints inspired him.
Caillebotte’s donates his Impresssionist art collection
In 1894, Caillebotte died of a heart attack at the early age of 45 years. He left a will stating that he wanted to leave his beautiful impressionism and post-impressionism art collection to the French government. This collection included many of his own artworks along with those of Monet, Manet, Sisley, Pissarro, Cezanne and Renoir.
Caillebotte understood that his collection was a national treasure. But he also knew that his paintings would most probably disappear into “attics” as the art world rejected the Impressionists during this period. He therefore made his donation with a strict precondition that the goverment exhibit his collection in the state-owned and esteemed Luxembourg Palace.
Caillebotte’s Stipulation to the French Government
“I give to the French State the paintings which I have; nevertheless, since I want that this donation be accepted and in such a manner that the paintings go neither in an attic nor in a province museum, but well in the Luxembourg Museum and later in the Louvre Museum, it is necessary that a certain time passes before execution of this clause until the public, I do not say understand, but admit this new painting. This time may be twenty years at the maximum. Until then, my brother Martial, and at his defect another of my heirs, will preserve them. I request Renoir to be my executor… ” from Caillebotte’s Will, 1876
The government initially refused the donation because it came with this awkward precondition. Eventually however, Renoir, the executor of the Caillebotte’s Will, succeeded in reaching an agreement with the government. They agreed to take most of the paintings.
In 1897, the Luxembourg Palace hung Impressionism paintings on their walls. It was the first time EVER that an esteemed public art gallery exhibited any impressionist artwork.
Due to Caillebotte’s donation, the impressionists finally received official recognition in the Paris art world.
The French Government’s HUGE Mistake
Albert C. Barnes, an American physician, businessman, and art collector bought most of the remaining paintings from Caillebotte’s collection, that is, those not taken by the French government.
These paintings are the core of what has become the extensive collection of Modernist works of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. French national museums today envy the impressionism collection in Pennsylvania!!
Why did the art historians forget Caillebotte?
Despite his central role within the impressionist circle and his beautiful paintings, Caillebotte is one of the least known of all the French impressionists. Why?
Firstly, since Gustave Cailebotte was wealthy, he did not need to sell his art to make a living. Many of his paintings remained in his house and were not exposed to the public art world.
Secondly, the art world associated Caillebotte as an art collector and financer of the impressionism art movement, rather than as a painter..
It took almost seventy years after Caillebotte’s death for art historians to review his artistic contributions. In the 1950s, Caillebotte’s descendants sold quite a few paintings from the family collection. Caillebotte’s artworks began to circulate within the art collectors’ markets and the public were finally exposed to his incredible talent.
In 1964, The Art Institute of Chicago acquired a Caillebotte’s painting called Paris Street; Rainy Day, spurring an American interest in the artist. By the 1970’s, museums displayed his beautiful paintings and the art world reassess his talent and contribution to the artworld.
In 2019 at a Christies art sale, a Caillebotte painting sold for an incredible £16.7 million English pounds.
Where to View Caillebotte’s Paintings
In Paris, you can View Caillebotte’s artworks in:
Looking for a day-trip from Paris?
For a wonderful day trip from Paris, go visit the picturesque Caillebotte Estate in Yerres. You will not see any Caillebotte original paintings here but you will enjoy the gorgeous setting of where he lived and painted so many of his artworks.
Caillebotte spent many years in this beautiful house. He painted around 90 canvases while in Yerres. The two-story neoclassical villa of the Caillebotte family home is magnificent, as are the 25 acres of gardens surrounding the villa.
Inside the villa, the furnishings and decorations provide the visitor with a wonderful peek into the life of the wealthy Frencb of the 19th century. Information boards and photos provide detailed accounts of both the history of family members and the property itself.
Propriete Caillebotte is only half an hour from Paris on the RER D train towards Melun. You disembark at Yerres station and walk around 10 minutes to reach the Caillebotte property. Easy Peasy!! If driving, parking is free and convenient.
It’s a fabulous, “off the beaten track” day trip from Paris!