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Biography

Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894)

Gustave Caillebotte Self-Portrait
Self-Portrait, 1892 (estimated)
Born to a wealthy family who had made their money in textiles and real estate during the redevelopment of Paris in the 1860s, Gustave Caillebotte was an engineer by profession, but also attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He met Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and Pierre Auguste Renoir in 1874 and helped organize the first impressionist exhibition in Paris that same year. He participated in later shows and painted some 500 works in a more realistic style than that of his friends.

Wealthy and generous, Caillebotte financially supported his Impressionist friends by purchasing their works at inflated prices and underwriting many of the expenses encurred 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. He made a point of buying the kinds of pictures not saleable on the regular market - the very large ones and the ones painted to solve special problems. He did this to help the painters, but as a result he also acquired some of their most important work. The Caillebotte paintings that were finally accepted (the rejected ones include some fine Cezannes) are at the heart of the Louvre's impressionist collection. Caillebotte, however, attempted to portray the rhythms of an industrial society with his regimented figures and the clock-like precision of his Paris. Caillebotte's superb collection of impressionist paintings was left to the French government on his death. With considerable reluctance the government accepted part of the collection.

His Works

Caillebotte's most intriguing paintings are those of the broad, new Parisian boulevards. The boulevards were painted from high vantage points and were populated with elegantly clad figures strolling with the expressionless intensity of somnambulists, as in Boulevard Vu d'en Haut (1880).

In 1875, wishing to make his public debut, he submitted a painting to the Salon jury, which rejected it. That work was probably the Floorscrapers, 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.