Gustave Caillebotte was an equally talented master of creating a view onto his reality. This reality, however, was thousands of miles away in Paris, France. Caillebotte was an artistic realist, a documentarian as well. He had been tutored by Léon Bonnat, a portrait painter who was famous for his broad use of color, who, incidentally, taught Eakins during the summer of 1869. (Could they have worked together?) M. Caillebotte became one of the major figures in the late nineteenth century art world when he exhibited eight works along with Degas, Monet, Renoir, Morisot, Pissaro and Sisley in 1876, at a show on the Boulevard des Capucines. Caillebotte had not been close with these artists, but quickly became so as a painter with certain similarities to the group to be known as Impressionists. Equally important, however, he showed his priorities by acquiring many canvases of these fellow artists. Caillebotte had inherited a then huge sum of money at the occasion of his father's death (1874), which made him a wealthy man. When his older brother died suddenly, Gustave decided to insure that the Impressionists would retain and further their place in the art world (and, thus, his own, though he was less interested in this eventuality) by drawing up a will with them in mind. He wrote:
It is my wish that sufficient funds be allocated from my estate to finance in 1878, under the best possible conditions, the exhibition of the painters known as the Intransigents or Impressionists. It is rather difficult for me to estimate today what the necessary sum might be; it could go up to thirty, forty thousand francs or even more. The painters to figure in this exhibition are: Degas, Monet, Pissaro, Renoir, Cézanne, Sisley, Mlle Morisot [sic]. I name these without excluding others.
I leave to the State the paintings in my possession; however, as I want this gift to be accepted, and in such guise that these paintings not end up in an attic [storage room] or a provincial museum but rather in the Luxembourg and later in the Louvre, a certain lapse of time will be necessary before the execution of this clause, until the public may, I do not say understand, but admit this painting. Twenty years or so might be required; in the meantime my brother Martial, or failing him another of my heirs, will keep them.
I ask Renoir to be my testamentary executor and to accept a painting to be chosen by him; my heirs will insist that he take an important one.
By the year 1877, still very much alive, Caillebotte had purchased forty-eight paintings, among which are some of the most prized and well-known masterpieces of the afore-mentioned Impressionists. That same year the third Impressionist exhibition took place. Caillebotte submitted five paintings:
The Pont de l'Europe
Portraits in the Country
; the portrait of his mother,
Portrait of Mme Martial Caillebotte
The Floor-Scrapers (Raboteurs de Parquets)
, which elicited much attention and controversy, had already been exhibited in 1876. In these works, Caillebotte distanced himself a bit from his admired contemporaries, but remained similar to Manet by the inclusion of figures in all his canvases, and to Degas by his choice of subject matter and the unusual perspective into which the viewer is thrown. Caillebotte, like Eakins, was not interested in the exquisite landscape without reference to society; he included workers, dandies, people at work and sport, people going about their daily lives, unaffected by the voyeur, Caillebotte himself.
His desired effect in a painting was to catch the immediate a trait which, again, allies him closely to Eakins of a scene; and, as with Eakins, Caillebotte's figures are in motion. The camera must have influenced Caillebotte's eye. The scene is cropped, with objects entering in a random way; windows and architectural shapes are cut off. He, as well as Edgar Degas used the camera technique skillfully to orchestrate line and perspective in their paintings, giving the viewer an often askew, seemingly accidental shot, where "negative" (unfilled, un-peopled) space played an important part in the carefully planned, overall composition. Caillebotte's
(1875) begs comparison to Eakins'
The Champion Single Sculls
. Let's take a closer look.
The viewer is situated before a scene where common laborers are at work. This is a scene which Caillebotte, himself, might have come upon, might even have contracted, being a member of a prosperous bourgeois family in Paris. We are immediately struck by the "contre-jour" effect of sunlight on the backs of the three men and on the floor they are scraping. This light practically becomes the subject of the painting as it draws our eyes backwards towards its source, from the bright floor, through the figures of the three men, back to the wall and the glass door, where the old Parisian rooftops maintain their stance. The figures scrape away the room's past. Present still, however, is the finely detailed grillwork of the balcony, the marble slab before the unseen fireplace and the 'boiserie' (wainscoting) of this unordinary, 2nd Empire (1830-48) room. It promises to be beautiful, but changed for sure, as the pace of changing Paris quickens and makes its new mark. We are witness to more than a simple refurbishing of a room; we are witness to the emerging, new Paris. The men at work, responsible for this change, appear as ironic mimics of the traditional filagree grillwork just outside the glass, in the curves of their muscles, their rounded shoulders, their sharp-edged tools. They are the links between the old and new. Caillebotte wanted us to know this world and documented it in his exact, descriptive rendering of this realistic scene, devoid of pathos, but Naturalistic in content. We see precisely what tools were used and how; we see the evidence of a mid-day break (the open wine bottle…doubtless, these men would return home for lunch! But, could we see in this, too, a metaphor for change in the fermenting wine?); we can even see, if we're attentive, a wedding band on the man closest to us. In this, Caillebotte, like Eakins, paints with a documentarian's palette, making evident his world and the world to come.