Who is Gustave Caillebotte?

Much more than just a painter, Caillebotte was financially secure from a young age, thanks to money bequethed by relatives. This enabled him to pick and choose when he produced art and also allowed him to help to finance Impressionism with his own financial backing. Typically new styles require help in order to establish themselves and at their very early stages help is required in order to promote exhibitions.
Much of what we know about Gustave Caillebotte was uncovered during research into related artists, such is the interest in this artist as a whole. His relative lack of prominence with art academics led to a dearth of information being available about his life and career but the strong relationships that he held with other notable artists like Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir have ensured that we can discuss his life in great detail. In recent centuries Gustave Caillebotte has also started to be more credited and respected by historians in his own right, boasting several large works and biographical studies into his life and work in a variety of languages.

The Early Life of Gustave Caillebotte

The 19th of August, 1848, marked the birth of Gustave Caillebotte. He was born into an upper-class family which would prove key to getting the training required to make the most of his early artistic potential. Gustave's father was a particularly well-connected individual who also owned the family business which specialised in textiles. It was on those trips that Gustave Caillebotte experimented with his artistic urges. He concentrated on drawing and painting. Caillebotte earned a degree in Law and looked to be heading into that profession before being called up into the Franco-Prussian war.

The Artistic Career of Gustave Caillebotte

The family wealth would eventually pass onto Gustave Caillebotte Jnr in 1874, just after he had entered the École des Beaux-Arts. This prestigious institution would only accept students who displayed considerable talent from an early age and drawing alongside the other young artists here would immediately raise your profile as a young artist. The passionate young student, Gustave Caillebotte, would supplement his studies by building artistic connections during his social time. They persuaded him to visit the very first Impressionist exhibition, which he did in 1874.

Gustave Caillebotte was an avid collector

Inheriting his father’s business and giant fortune, Gustave Caillebotte was able to not only finance his artistic career, but also help others. He would become an integral part of the success of the Impressionist movement, not only with his paintings but also in how he was able to fund exhibitions in the early years. Later on, as their success grew, it wasn’t as necessary for him to provide so much financial support, but without it they may never have left quite the same legacy. Gustave Caillebotte also purchased a large number of paintings from his colleagues and bequeth an extraordinary collection to the French State. This included works by the likes of Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Degas, Cezanneand Manet - essentially a who's who of Impressionist painters minus just Caillebotte himself.

The Gustave Caillebotte Style

Gustave Caillebotte was a nineteenth-century French painter. He's now known as one of the founders of Impressionism, but back then he was just another guy who painted things like people in his parlor. His paintings don't look much like Monet's famous Impression: Sunrise, but they also don't look like anything else. Caillebotte's reputation has gone up and down over the years. In the late nineteenth century he was an important influence on impressionist painters like Degas and Renoir; in the early twentieth century his reputation declined and he was dismissed as boring; now he is once again seen as an interesting artist. What is the "Gustave Caillebotte style?" It's a way of painting that seems to have died with him, and yet we can see it every day. What we call realism wasn't invented by Caillebotte or Courbet or any of the other artists who painted out of doors. It was invented by the people who looked at their paintings. Realism is a form of storytelling. Artists started painting realism because they were no longer satisfied with telling stories just by arranging words and images. They wanted to tell stories through things themselves. Long before there were rich people who collected paintings, at least one person had figured out how to collect the stories inside paintings: Louis XIV, who commissioned a series of paintings from Le Brun that would become the Versailles Hall of Mirrors. You can read those paintings as if they were a story, but you could also choose instead to read them as a set of instructions for making a hall of mirrors. If you did, you would discover that they are not only telling the story of Louis's power, but also how you could make your own hall of mirrors if you wanted one.

What Can You Learn from Gustave Caillebotte?

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) was a successful French painter in the Impressionist style, and was also a famous photographer. He left behind a huge body of work, which continues to fascinate art historians and photography buffs. He is known for having taken many photos of Paris and its environs, and also for having photographed the famous Impressionist painters and their friends and family. The 19 th century painter Gustave Caillebotte is probably not a household name. His paintings are in museums, but they aren't the kind of thing that shows up in coffee table books or on postcards. He is not exactly a household name today, but he was a celebrity in his day. He knew everyone who was anyone, and was himself a famous artist and art collector. He has come down to us as a refined member of the idle rich, a tasteful recorder of the everyday life of his time and place. And indeed he did do paintings like that. But he was much more than that. He was one of the founders of Impressionism, although he was also when it came down to it quite conservative about how far the new style could go when put into practice. That's just an example; you can find other examples in his work. Something about it invites our attention to look for paradoxes. He was a real painter and a real man, and everything he did was real, even the parts that seem like jokes. He wasn't a great painter, but he was a good painter. And he wasn't just a painter; he was also a businessman and a city councilman and one of the first champions of Impressionism. He was born into an old family whose money came from textiles. He used the money to buy paintings by other people so he could hang them in his house. When he died, those paintings became part of the collection at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. That's all true, but it is not why I think you should study Caillebotte. It is because he painted pictures that are more interesting than they sound. He painted things most people don't want to look at: big rooms with big furniture full of big people with big armchairs and furniture you can see right through.

The Last Years of Caillebotte

In his later years, Gustave Caillebotte moved once more - picking a beautiful spot just on the Seine river. This would prove an inspiration to a new series of work which would focus entirely on the different activities and sights that one might find along this busy river. He also spent time gardening and the fruits of his labour would also appear in several paintings around this time. In recent decades, there has been a much bigger interest in his own paintings.

Caillebotte's Legacy

Gustave's legacy to art, France, and the world is many fold. A brilliantly astute man, Caillebotte knew that even though he, himself admired the impressionists, the world in general was not ready. That is why, on his death, when he left his entire collection of sixty-eight paintings by assorted impressionist masters to the French State, he had one provision: that in no way were they to be displayed in the same room. Gustave Caillebotte stipulated that his paintings not be stored away in a cupboard, but be displayed in the Luxembourg Palace as part of the living artist collection and after to the Louvre.
Remarkably, even after several rounds of negotiations, Gustave's executor, Renoir, was only able to convince the government to take thirty-eight of the paintings. The remainder were sold to a private American collector. However, the thirty-eight paintings that did go on display at the Luxembourg Palace were the first Beaux-Arts sanctioned display to be mounted in France for the general public to enjoy. It seems that may have been Gustave's ambition fulfilled.
Gustave Caillebotte's own masterful works have influenced both those who worked with him and those who came after. His most profound endowment, however, is the more than five hundred of his original work which are only now being discovered by art lovers world-wide. A great talent in his own right, Caillebotte's work is both beautiful and technically profound, and well worth seeking out wherever they can be found. Today, the French Impressionist Masters fetch multi-million price-tags including Gustave's own works; Man on his Balcony (1880) sold in 2000 for more than $14 million. Finally, Gustave Caillebotte is now considered with the Greats of Art after years of being forgotten.

Oil painting reproduction of Gustave Caillebotte