November 22, 2021 3 min read

1.The Floor Scrapers

Caillebotte's most famous painting, "The Floor Scrapers," shows the men who cleaned the floor of the Paris Bourse (stock exchange). The work is fascinating in part because it poses an unanswered question: was Caillebotte sympathetic with these workers, or their enemy? Caillebotte was born into wealth, and at first he spent his time enjoying that wealth. He collected art, played the part of a bon vivant, and bred horses. He also helped organize Impressionist exhibitions. But in 1873 his brother died, leaving him to care for his brother's family. Caillebotte had never worked in his life; suddenly he had to support not only himself but also his wife and her three children. He opened a factory making luxury goods like fans and umbrellas. But he was good at business, and by 1877 he had sold out his interest in the company and was back to enjoying wealth. He started buying art again; when Renoir showed him his "Luncheon of the Boating Party," Caillebotte bought it on the spot for 600 francs (about $120). And he started painting again too. 

2.Le Pont de l’Europe

The Pont de l’Europe became a central feature of this French artist’s life in the city. His family home was just a ten minute walk from the construction, at rue de Miromesnil in the Quartier de l’Europe. The artist would also have crossed the bridge to get to Cafe Guerbois and the Cafe de la Nouvelle-Athenes where the Impressionists frequently met.

3.Paris Street, Rainy Day

When the 1877 Impressionist exhibition opened in Paris, Gustave Caillebotte's painting ‘Paris Street, Rainy Day’ was one of its stars. It was not just because it was a good picture. It was also because the picture was an innovation. It used ordinary people, not gods or kings or other heroes, as its subject. It did not depict some momentous event. No battle scenes or other kinds of action scenes could be found in this painting. Instead, it was set on a rainy day in Paris, showing everyday life of ordinary people walking through the downpour. The painting depicted ordinary people taking shelter under a roof somewhere in the city of Paris. The scene captured everyone's attention with its unique composition and vivid depiction of everyday life in Paris during a heavy rainstorm. While this kind of scene might seem common today, at the time it was nothing like what had been painted before. The painting won enthusiastic applause from both critics and ordinary viewers when it was displayed at the 1877 Impressionist exhibition, and earned its creator great fame and popularity not only in France but also around the world.

4.Oarsmen Rowing on the Yerres

In 1874, Gustave Caillebotte, a prominent French Impressionist, exhibited The Yerres Boat-Houses at the Paris Salon. It was an unusual work for several reasons: it was painted indoors; it was larger than most works at the exhibition; and it was made by an artist not previously associated with this group. Caillebotte was a wealthy amateur and a friend to many of his fellow Impressionists (he bought Manet's The Railway) but he never took up their cause or joined their exhibitions. His work is often viewed as a visual record of the times, yet his paintings were carefully composed and he used traditional methods of painting to produce them. Though Caillebotte painted the same subject (the riverbank at Yerres) several times, in different lights and from different angles, only the 1874 version resulted in a public exhibition. One can therefore assume that this painting in particular had a special significance for Caillebotte and an even greater importance for 19th century French society.

5.The House Painters

The painting shows three laborers painting woodwork at the rear of a building, watched by a woman and a boy, the latter holding the painter's cap, who are standing in an open doorway. A wall separates the workmen from the spectators, but Caillebotte has broken it down with his use of perspective. The result is that although we are looking out on to a suburban street, the house creates an enclosed space in which the viewer becomes part of the scene. For me at least there is something in this painting that transcends the everyday subject-matter. It is in fact in my view one of Caillebotte’s best works, and remains for me one of his most haunting paintings.
Geoffrey CONCAS
Geoffrey CONCAS