The Artist Gustave Caillebotte

Born in 1848, Gustave Caillebotte was a French painter who is best known for such works as Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877) and Le Perissoires (1878). Although closely associated with the Impressionists, he adeptly painted in various styles and became particularly well-known for his artistic rendering of depth perception. He was instrumental to the Impressionist movement during their early period. He helped to fund exhibits for the fledgling movement’s group of artists and amassed a collection of Impressionist artworks to ensure that they would be bequeathed to renowned French museums.

Caillebotte was born to a wealthy Parisian family. He had two brothers. His parents, Martial and Celeste Caillebotte, supported his artistic study, although Caillebotte also received a law degree and worked as an engineer for a period. Caillebotte enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1873. The following year he inherited his father’s fortune and a significant family fortune upon his mother’s death. Significantly, Caillebotte began to associate with French Academy outsiders like Edgar Degas. Although he did not participate in the first Impressionist exhibit, he did attend the 1874 exhibit and became a patron of the group that included such artists as Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and Manet. His fortune allowed him to help Impressionist artists meet their financial obligations in many instances.

In essence, even though Caillebotte was associated with the Impressionists through his support of the group and exhibited some of their techniques in his own compositions, his particular style more closely resembled the School of Realism. His paintings reflected realistic settings like Paris streets or river boaters. He also painted many familial scenes and portraits. As a boater, Caillebotte enjoyed painting outdoor scenes such as Oarsman in a Top Hat (1877) which could be said to reflect his own status as a wealthy Parisian equally at home rowing a boat.

Perhaps due to his love of river recreations, Caillebotte moved to a property near Argenteuil on the banks of the Seine permanently in 1888 after purchasing it in 1881. His friendship with painters like Renoir continued, but he ceased to show his own paintings after the age of thirty-four. Caillebotte died at the age of forty-five in 1894. He bequeathed his collection of Impressionist paintings to the State with a provision in his will reading “I want this gift to be accepted, and in such a guise that these paintings not end up in an attic or provincial museum but rather at the Luxembourg and later in the Louvre.” His collection was important to Impressionism since the movement was initially disparaged by the establishment and was not embraced until decades later.

Caillebotte named Renoir as his will’s executor stipulating that the artist choose an important painting from the bequeathed collection as payment for his services. Their friendship was also evidenced by Renoir’s earlier inclusion of Caillebotte as one of the boaters in his masterpiece Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-1881). Other important works by Caillebotte include Yellow Roses in a Vase (1862), Jeune Homme a la Fenetre (1875), and The Floor Scrapers (1875).