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Sunday, May 21, 2023

My Art History: Gustave Caillebotte

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“Paris Street; Rainy Day”
83 1/2 × 108 3/4 in, oil, 1877
Collection, Art Institute of Chicago

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894, France) came to mind this morning.  I was thinking about composition, and one painting of his in particular has influenced some of my work, above.

What's going on here, design-wise?  A lamp post splits the painting down the middle.  But it doesn't isolate each half, and here's why.  The man on the right is looking over into the left half of the painting, and in the left half, the man closest to the lamp post is about to step into the right half.  While the lamp post wants to push the two halves apart, the actions of the men join them together.

The visual tension in this painting has always excited me.  I've tried to use this approach in my “Natural Diptych” series, where I use some element of nature to divide a painting in two.  Here's one in which I use a fir tree to split the painting but also to serve as a unifying element.  The spreading branches of the firs and the shadow beneath “knit” together the two halves.  Also, the figure and dog on the left look over into the right half of the painting; certain shapes, such as the pointed firs, and colors, such as the pink of the apple trees, are repeated in both halves of the painting.  Everything around the tree is arranged so that the the tree is central—even though it splits the painting.

“Path to the Sea”
12x24, oil

Caillebotte, born into an upper-class Parisian family, started off studying law, but after the Franco-Prussian War, he began to paint and to hang out with painters.  (Always a bad sign.)  He befriended Degas, among others, and you can see the influence of Degas in the tight cropping of figures in “Paris Street; Rainy Day.”  As a patron of the arts, he purchased many Impressionist works and funded some of the Impressionist exhibitions.  Later in life, he stopped showing his work and painted less, preferring to garden and to build racing yachts.  Sadly, he died at 45 from pulmonary edema.

You can read more abut Caillebotte in the Wikipedia article: