Friday, July 1, 2016

Caillebotte, Painter and Gardener

This summer, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in collaboration with the Musée des Impressionismes Giverny is presenting an exhibition on the artist Gustave Caillebotte (Paris, 1848 – Petit Gennevilliers, 1894), one of the least known but also most original figures of the Impressionist movement. Caillebotte, Painter and Gardener reveals this French artist’s thematic and stylistic evolution, from his early works painted in Haussmann’s modern Paris to his depictions of gardens, which would come to occupy a significant part of his output.

Curated by Marina Ferretti, director of Exhibitions and Research at the Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny, the exhibition includes a total of 65 works loaned from private collections and international museums including the Marmottan Monet in Paris, the Brooklyn Museum in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The works on display are presented in four sections corresponding to periods in the artist’s life: Haussmann’s Paris, world of stone; Sojourns in Yerres; The Seine and the Exploration of Normandy; and The Garden at Petit Gennevilliers.
For many years Caillebotte was principally recognised for his role as a patron and supporter of the Impressionist movement. He organised exhibitions and collected a large number of works by artists such as Pissarro, Degas, Renoir, Sisley, Cézanne and Monet, which the French State received as a bequest following his death in 1894. For some decades, however, the importance of Caillebotte’s creative activities has also been acknowledged, and he is now considered one of the most notable members of the Impressionist group.

Gustave Caillebotte was born in Paris in 1848 to a family whose wealth allowed him to receive a privileged education. He had already produced some works by the time he started to attend Léon Bonnat’s studio in 1872. That same year he made the obligatory study trip to Italy and in 1873 passed the entrance exam to the École des Beaux-Arts.
Despite receiving a training based on traditional academic values, Caillebotte revealed more interest in art that broke away from pre-established norms. His first works reveal an original gaze on nature and the modern city. The subject is less important than the daring compositions, dominated by a high viewpoint and oblique perspective which create an effect of tension.
In 1875, after the Salon jury rejected The Floor-Scrapers, the first canvas that Caillebotte presented in the official section, he joined forces with the independent painters. A year later he showed this painting alongside four works on urban subjects in the second Impressionist exhibition. From this date on, Caillebotte would further encourage the movement by purchasing and collecting works by his contemporaries. 
Haussmann’s Paris, world of stone
Between 1852 and 1870, Paris was transformed by a major urban redesign scheme promoted and designed by Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann respectively, which contributed to the creation of a new, cleaner, more open and accessible city and one that became the European capital of modern art.
 Caillebotte lived in one of these new quarters and experienced the transformation of the city at first hand, while also depicting it in his work. In contrast to other contemporary artists, he avoided typical modern themes such as train stations, cafés and the city’s crowded leisure spots. Rather he focused his gaze on the true protagonists of the new city, its inhabitants, whom he perfectly observed and described. This room in the exhibition includes various canvases and preparatory studies of middle-class Parisians in top hats, in contrast to others of workmen and painters, revealing Caillebotte’s desire to reflect the different social classes that inhabited the city.

His palette had by now become as grey as the appearance of the new Paris, which was rebuilt using dark, muted materials. 

Balcony, Boulevard Haussmann (1880) 

and The Boulevard Seen from Above (1880) are examples of the way the artist saw the city, using high viewpoints and framing the scene with a window or balcony and employing a distant perspective, which functions to accentuate the sense of isolation and coldness that characterise modern life.

Sojourns in Yerres
For many years Caillebotte spent his summers in his family’s home in Yerres, a Neo-classical style house set in a large garden of the English type which he depicted on numerous occasions. It was in this setting that the artist discovered plein air painting and where he experienced the power of nature and the intensity of its colours and scents, embarking on what would be a profound dedication to painting gardens.

Caillebotte’s works depict the long paths in the garden of the family home, the ordered and well-tended vegetable garden, different effects of light on the ponds and warm, tranquil sunsets on the horizon.

Similarly, he observed rural labours and the natural setting of the countryside along the River Yerres, where people enjoyed water activities of the type fashionable at the time, such as rowing. Caillebotte’s interest in that sport led him to depict scenes of rowers in a very personal manner, with an emphasis on physical exercise and a sense of movement. 

Skiffs on the River Yerres (1877) 

and Oarsman in a Top Hat (1878) 

reflect this new interest. Painted using a more colourful palette, these works deploy daring compositions in which the human presence is extremely important

In the fourth Impressionist exhibition of 1879, Caillebotte presented a total of 28 canvases painted in Yerres. These works reveal a profound change in his use of colour and choice of subject-matter.
The Seine and the Exploration of Normandy 
Following the sale of the family property in Yerres, in 1881 Caillebotte and his brother jointly acquired a property in Petit Gennevilliers on the banks of the Seine where the artist continued to focus on garden painting with true passion. Soon after moving into this new residence he had a garden and a vegetable plot laid out, to which he would devote much of his time and which became his two principal sources of inspiration. 
The fact that Caillebotte’s house was next to the Cercle de la Voile de Paris [Paris Yacht Club] was fundamental to his interest in sailing. He began to design sailing boats, winning numerous regattas with them, and to paint studies of the boats to be seen on the Seine.

Urban views of Paris in the artist’s work gradually gave way to landscapes of Argenteuil, Colombes and Gennevilliers in which Caillebotte came close to the Impressionist technique.

However, paintings such as  

Laundry Drying, Petit Gennevilliers (1888) and  

Fields on the Gennevilliers Plain, Study in Yellow and Pink (1884) reveal his habitual use of striking compositions, dynamic tension and high viewpoints

 Similarly, in The Seine and the Railroad Bridge at Argenteuil (1885) 


and Sailboat Moored on the Seine, Argenteuil (1891) the human figure disappears, its presence only remaining in the mark it leaves on the landscape
Caillebotte spent his summers in Normandy where the sea and new landscapes inspired him to create works executed with a looser type of brushstroke and a freer, totally Impressionist technique. It was here that he met up again with Monet, who also had a marvellous garden in Giverny and with whom he exchanged impressions and tips on horticulture and gardening. 
The Garden at Petit Gennevilliers
In 1888, having bought his brother’s share in the house, Caillebotte settled there permanently with his partner Charlotte Berthier. He gradually enlarged the plot by buying adjacent ones until he owned a sizeable amount of land, to which he made changes depending on his taste and requirements.

Of all these changes that he undertook, the most important was the creation of the vegetable plot, the garden and the construction of his studio and a greenhouse with central heating. It was here that he would spend most of his time from now on.
Caillebotte invested a great deal of time and effort to studying horticulture and to designing and looking after his garden, activities reflected in his paintings. He based his design for the garden on straight lines which gave rise to ordered beds, each one devoted to a particular tree of flower. He also introduced the most recent advances in gardening.

During the last years of his life in Gennevilliers, Caillebotte focused on painting the subjects that most interested him, namely flowers, his garden and sailing. The flowers he grew himself provided inspiration for ambitious compositions that decorated his own home, which he now conceived as a continuation of the natural world outside. The intimate character of the works of this period and their distinctive character is extremely striking, as is the use of close-up viewpoints and the intensity of the colours of the flowers, to be seen in various paintings in display in this room, such as  

Orchids (1893).


Title: Caillebotte, Painter and Gardener

Organiser: Musée des Impresionnismes Giverny and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Venue and dates: Musée des Impresionnismes Giverny, 25 March to 3 July 2016; Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, 19 July to 30 October 2016