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Biographical Essay | Impressionist

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)

By Jamie Mìcheal
December 1, 2008
Caillebotte’s ability to reach beyond the flat canvas and project an image through the union of space, color, and texture, gives us a deeper understanding of the role of poetics. 
Le Peintre sous son Parasol, c. 1878 -Gustave Caillebotte

Gustave Caillebotte was a French painter, art collector, patron of Impressionist artists, and promoter of Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pissarro.

He was born into a wealthy Parisian family, studied engineering and law, and fought in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. After serving he became fascinated with painting and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Auguste Renoir encouraged Caillebotte to forget that a painting is merely a flat image, and to reach beyond the canvas to express his vision.

The Impressionists, as Renoir and the others were called, including Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Mary Cassatt, were using individual brushstrokes to suggest natural image, color, and light, and capture the unstructured impression or mood.

Their work shocked academic establishment and was rejected by the Académie des beaux-arts. In 1874 Caillebotte used wealth and influence to help the Impressionists organize their first group exhibition in Paris, called the Salon des Refusés.

All the while, Caillebotte was becoming a serious painter himself, and in 1875, applied to exhibit at the official Salon of the Académie des beaux-arts, and was rejected. He participated in the second Impressionist exhibition at the Salon des Refusés in 1876, and went on to paint five hundred works.

In 1881 Caillebotte bought a house with a garden in Petit-Gennevilliers, on the banks of the Seine, where he would continue to paint, raise orchids, and collect Impressionist paintings.

Caillebotte was influenced by Japanese woodblock prints and the new technology of photography as an art form. His visual elements belong to the School of Realism, and draw the eye back to the realistic and natural representation of people, landscapes, farms, working life, and Paris streets.

Although he changed his mind later, the influential French writer Émile Zola was critical of Caillebotte's "photographic" realism and his technical meticulousness.

Until the early 1960s, most art historians considered Caillebotte an insignificant Impressionist whose work was overshadowed by the fact that he was a patron of the arts and an inexhaustible collector.

In reconsideration, his work stands as complex and enduring, at once bold in vision and traditional in technique. Caillebotte’s ability to reach beyond the flat canvas and project an image through the union of space, color, and texture, gives us a deeper understanding of the role of poetics as a way of seeing something in art, which is already there, but often goes unnoticed, and when seen again brings us closer to an awareness of its extraordinary power.

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