Biography of Gustave Caillebotte, French Impressionist Painter

gustave caillebotte paris street rainy day
"Paris Street, Rainy Day" (1875). Barney Burstein / Getty Images

Gustave Caillebotte (August 19, 1848 - February 21, 1894) was a French impressionist painter. He is best known for his painting of urban Paris titled "Paris Street, Rainy Day." Caillebotte also contributed to art history as a prominent collector of paintings by key artists of the impressionist and post-impressionist eras.

Fast Facts: Gustave Caillebotte

  • Known For: Paintings of urban life in 19th century Paris as well as pastoral river scenes
  • Born: August 19, 1848 in Paris, France
  • Parents: Martial and Celeste Caillebotte
  • Died: February 21, 1894 in Gennevilliers, France
  • Education: Ecole des Beaux-Arts
  • Art Movement: Impressionism
  • Mediums: Oil painting
  • Selected Works: "The Floor Scrapers" (1875), "Paris Street, Rainy Day" (1875), "Le Pont de Leurope" (1876)
  • Notable Quote: "The very great artists attach you even more to life."

Early Life and Education

Born into an upper-class family in Paris, Gustave Caillebotte grew up comfortably. His father, Martial, inherited a textile business and also served as a judge at the Tribunal de Commerce. Martial was twice a widower when he married Gustave's mother, Celeste Daufresne.

In 1860, the Caillebotte family began spending summers at an estate in Yerres. It was 12 miles south of Paris along the Yerres River. In the family's large home there, Gustave Caillebotte began drawing and painting.

Caillebotte finished a law degree in 1868 and received his license to practice two years later. The ambitious young man was drafted into the French Army to serve in the Franco-Prussian War. His service lasted from July 1870 through March 1871.

gustave caillebotte self-portrait
"Self-Portrait with Easel" (1879). Hulton Fine Art Collection / Getty Images

Artistic Training

When the Franco-Prussian War ended, Gustave Caillebotte decided to pursue his art with more determination. He visited the studio of painter Leon Bonat, who encouraged him to follow an art career. Bonnat was an instructor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and counted writer Emile Zola and artists Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet as friends. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, John Singer Sargent, and Georges Braque would all later receive instruction from Bonnat.

While Gustave trained to become an artist, tragedy struck the Caillebotte family. His father died in 1874, and his brother, Rene, died two years later. In 1878, he lost his mother. The only family left was Gustave's brother, Martial, and they divided the family's wealth between them. As he began working his way up in the art world, Gustave Caillebotte also made friends with avant-garde figures Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet.

gustave caillebotte la partie de besigue
“La Partie de Bésigue" (1881). Hulton Fine Art Collection / Getty Images

Prominent Painter

In 1876, Caillebotte presented his first paintings to the public in the second impressionist exhibition. For the third exhibition, later in the same year, Caillebotte unveiled "The Floor Scrapers," one of his best-known pieces. The Salon of 1875, the official show of the Academie des Beaux-Arts, had previously rejected the painting. They complained that the depiction of common laborers planing a floor was "vulgar." Fanciful images of peasants painted by the well-respected Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot were acceptable, but realistic depictions were not.

gustave caillebotte the floor scrapers
"The Floor Scrapers" (1875). Hulton Fine Art Collection / Getty Images

Caillebotte painted many peaceful family scenes both in the interior of homes and in gardens such as 1878's "The Orange Trees." He also found the countryside atmosphere around Yerres inspirational. "Oarsman in a Top Hat," which he created in 1877, celebrates the men rowing along the tranquil river.

The most celebrated of Caillebotte's paintings focus on urban Paris. Many observers consider "Paris Street, Rainy Day," painted in 1875, to be his masterpiece. It is executed in a flat, almost photo-realistic style. The painting convinced Emile Zola that Caillebotte was a young painter of "courage" in depicting modern subjects. Although it was exhibited with the impressionists, some historians consider "Paris Street, Rainy Day" as evidence that Gustave Caillebotte should be identified as a realist painter instead of an impressionist.

Caillebotte's use of novel viewpoints and perspectives frustrated critics of the era. His 1875 painting "Young Man at His Window" showed the subject from the back while positioning the viewer on the balcony with the subject looking over the scene below him. The cropping of people at the edge of a painting like in "Paris Street, Rainy Day" also infuriated some viewers.

In 1881, Caillebotte bought a house in the northwestern suburbs of Paris along the Seine River. He soon embarked on a new hobby, building yachts, that took away much of his time for painting. By the 1890s, he rarely painted at all. He stopped producing the large-scale works of his earlier years. In 1894, Caillebotte suffered a stroke while working in his garden and passed away at age 45.

Patron of the Arts

With his family wealth, Gustave Caillebotte was essential to the art world not only as a working artist but also as a patron. He provided financial support to Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pissarro while they struggled to draw attention and gain commercial success. Caillebotte also occasionally paid the rent on studio space for fellow artists.

In 1876, Caillebotte purchased paintings by Claude Monet for the first time. He soon became a prominent collector. He helped convince the Louvre Museum to purchase Edouard Manet's landmark controversial painting "Olympia." In addition to his art collection, Caillebotte amassed a stamp collection that now belongs to the British Library in London.

gustave caillebotte le pont de leurope
"Le Pont de Leroupe" (1876). Hulton Fine Art Collection / Getty Images

Legacy

After his death, Gustave Caillebotte was largely ignored and forgotten by the art establishment. Fortuitously, the Art Institute of Chicago purchased "Paris Street, Rainy Day" in 1964 and gave it a prominent position in the public galleries. Since then, the painting has reached iconic status.

gustave caillebotte snow effect
"Snow Effect" (1879). Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Caillebotte's personal collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works now forms a significant part of the core set of paintings from the era that belongs to the nation of France. Another notable collection of pictures previously owned by Caillebotte is included in the Barnes Collection in the U.S.

Source

  • Morton, Mary and George Shackleford. Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter's Eye. University of Chicago Press, 2015.