painter Gustave Caillebotte was a member, and patron of the group of
artists known as
Impressionists, though he painted in a
much more realistic manner than many other artists in the group. Gustave
Caillebotte was noted for his early interest in photography as an art
form. Wealthy and generous, Caillebotte financially supported his
Impressionist friends by purchasing their works at inflated prices and
underwriting many of the expenses incurred for the exhibitions.
Caillebotte was a painter of great originality. Like the Impressionists,
Caillebotte pursued an instant of vision, recording it with a fullness
of truthful detail. Caillebotte, however, attempted to portray the
rhythms of an industrial society with his regimented figures and the
clock-like precision of his Paris. In this aspect, Gustave Caillebotte
was very much like the Realists.
Gustave Caillebotte was born in 1848 to Martial and Caleste Caillebotte in a popular part of Paris. He grew up in comfort and moved to a luxurious home in the upper-class part of Paris when he was 18. His father was in the textile business and was quite successful thanks to the increased spending of Louis Napoleon on the army. He provided the French army with bedding. Beginning in 1860, the Caillebotte family began spending many of their summers in Yerres, a town on the Yerres River about 12 miles south of Paris, where Martial Caillebotte, Sr. had purchased a large property. It was around this time that Gustave Caillebotte probably began to draw and paint. Caillebotte earned a law degree in 1868 and a license to practice law in 1870. Gustave Caillebotte was also an engineer. Shortly afterwards, he was drafted to fight in the Franco-Prussian war, and served in the Garde Nationale Mobile de la Seine.
After the war, Gustave Caillebotte began visiting the studio of painter Léon Bonnat, where he began to seriously study painting. He developed an accomplished style in a relatively short period of time and had his first studio in his parents' home. In 1873, Caillebotte entered into the École des Beaux-Arts, but apparently did not spend much time there. Gustave Caillebotte inherited his father’s fortune in 1874 and the three sons divided the family fortune after their mother’s death in 1878. Around 1874, Gustave Caillebotte met and befriended several artists working outside the official French Academy, including Edgar Degas and Giuseppe de Nittis, and attended,but did not participate in, the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874.
Gustave Caillebotte used this fortune to enable himself to paint and to help out his fellow artists in the Impressionist group. Gustave Caillebotte’s wealth may have caused his relationship with the other impressionist to become unequal. In any event, Caillebotte’s role within the Impressionist group was more than that of a simple fellow participant, and it was his financial support, rather than his critical success, which was most crucial to his colleagues. This financial aid that Caillebotte contributed to the group changed people’s conception of him. His status within the Impressionist group was never solidified and the true reason for his membership was questionable.
Gustave Caillebotte's painting themes were catholic. For example, he painted portraits and interior scenes, urban life, still lifes, and landscapes and seascapes. Gustave Caillebotte often chose an overhead vantage point for his compositions and depicted elegantly dressed figures strolling with the expressionless look of sleep walkers. His metropolitan scenes led editor Anne Distel to title a book about him, Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist. Gustave Caillebotte is best known for his paintings of urban Paris, such as The Bridge 'De l'Europe', and Paris Street; Rainy Day (shown here). It's almost unique among his works for its particularly flat colors and photo-realistic effect which gives the painting its distinctive and modern look, almost akin to American Realists such as Edward Hopper.
In 1875, wishing to make his public debut, Gustave Caillebotte submitted a painting to the Salon jury, which rejected it. That work was probably the "Floorscrapers", (shown here) which Caillebotte then decided to exhibit in a more hospitable environment, that of the second Impressionist group exhibition of 1876. His work, highly acclaimed, stole the show and helped to make the second exhibition far more of a popular success than the first. Many of Gustave Caillebotte's urban paintings were quite controversial due to their exaggerated, plunging perspective. In "Man on a Balcony" (Shown top of page), he invites the viewer to share the balcony with his subject and join in observing the scene of the city reaching into the distance, again by using unusual perspective. Caillebotte acquired a property at Petit-Gennevilliers, on the banks of the Seine near Argenteuil, in 1881, and moved there permanently in 1888.
Gustave Caillebotte ceased showing his work at age 34 and devoted himself to gardening and to building and racing yachts, and spent much time with his brother, Martial, and his friend Pierre Renoir, who often came to stay at Petit-Gennevilliers, and engaged in far ranging discussions on art, politics, literature, and philosophy. Gustave Caillebotte drew up a will providing money for an Impressionist exhibition to be held after his death, and bequeathing his collection of Impressionist paintings to the State. Caillebotte died on February 21, 1894 of pulmonary congestion and was interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France. Forty of his works now hang in the Musee d'Orsay. Caillebotte's, "L'Homme au balcon , boulevard Haussmann," (shown top of page) painted in 1880, was sold for more than US$14.3 million in 2000.