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Gustave Caillebotte
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Petit Gennevilliers, France
A true Renaissance man of the 19th century, Gustave Caillebotte was an outstanding painter, a discerning art collector, a supporter of the Impressionists, an important naval architect, an excellent sailor, a stamp collector, and a horticulturalist. As one scholar wrote, “How many painters have a stamp collection in the British Museum? How many philatelists have their yacht designs published all over the world? How many naval architects have their pictures in the greatest museums? And how many horticulturalists corresponded with Monet concerning the creation of the gardens in Giverny?” (Charles, quoted in Sanger (2012), p. 231.) Caillebotte’s best work has been described as being in the first rank of Impressionist paintings. Born in 1848 in Paris, Caillebotte’s father was a wealthy merchant. He initially trained for the law, but after military service during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, Caillebotte entered the studio of the painter Léon Bonnat (1833-1922) in 1872. The next year he passed the entrance examination for the École des Beaux-Arts, but apparently spent little time there. Caillebotte’s artistic talent developed quickly. In 1874 he met Edgar Degas (1834-1917), who invited him to participate in what is now known as the first Impressionist exhibition. While Caillebotte did not participate, he probably met the group of artists who exhibited at that show. His father died at the end of the year, leaving a large fortune to Caillebotte and his mother and siblings. The following year Caillebotte began buying the paintings of his Impressionist friends. He entered his painting The Floor Scrapers (Paris: Musée d’Orsay) for the official Salon exhibition of 1875, but it was rejected by the jury. Invited by Degas and others to participate in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876, Caillebotte showed eight paintings, including The Floor Scrapers, and assisted in organizing and financing the exhibition. He was the primary organizer of the 1877 Impressionist exhibition, showing six paintings and lending eight works by his friends. He also began lending and giving money to Claude Monet (1840-1926), and would continue to do so for the rest of his life. By 1878 Caillebotte’s interests expanded. He and his brother Martial (1853-1910) had joined the Paris sailing club in 1876, and actively participated in sailing regattas on the Seine and off Normandy. About this same time the two brothers also became serious stamp collectors. Caillebotte continued to paint and went on to participate in the 1879, 1880 and 1882 Impressionist exhibitions, but declined to participate in the 1881 exhibition due to disagreements with Degas over who should be allowed to participate. The two brothers bought a property in 1881 on the Seine at Petit Gennevilliers, downstream from Paris, opposite Argenteuil, a sailing center. Caillebotte designed his first sailboat in 1882; he would go on to design 25 sailboats, many with innovative designs. Many of the boats were built at a shipyard Caillebotte financed near his country property. He later bought Martial’s share of the Petit Gennevilliers property and made it his primary residence. After Martial’s marriage in 1877 the brothers sold their stamp collection for a large sum; part of the collection now forms a key part of the British Museum’s collection. Caillebotte showed works in the exhibitions mounted in New York and Paris by the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) in 1888. He and Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) and other artist friends began meeting monthly, either in Paris or Petit Gennevilliers, which continued until Caillebotte’s death. He also became very interested in horticulture, eventually creating a magnificent garden, complete with a greenhouse for exotic plants. He continued sailing, winning many regattas on the Seine and off the Normandy coast. His passion for boats informed his art; his 1893 work Regatta at Argenteuil (private collection) features three views of his yacht Roastbeef, built to his design. Caillebotte died of a stroke in 1894. He left his collection of 60 works, mostly by his Impressionist friends, to the French State. After strenuous negotiations conducted by Renoir, his executor, and Martial on behalf of the estate, forty works were accepted and (except for two drawings and after construction of an new gallery) were installed in the Musée du Luxembourg; they are now among the most famous works in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. A retrospective exhibition, with 122 of Caillebotte’s works, was held at Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1894. After this show Renoir arranged for Martial to give The Floor Scrapers and another work to the State, adding to his brother’s bequest. (TNB 7/2013) Selected bibliography: Distel, Anne, et al. Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist. Exhibition catalog. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1995. Lloyd, Christopher, et al. Impressionists on the Water. Exhibition catalog. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and New York: Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc., 2013. Sanger, Karin, et al. Gustave Caillebotte: An Impressionist and Photography. Exhibition catalog. Frankfurt am Main: Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, and Munich: Mirmer Verlag GmbH, 2012.