Monday, June 29, 2015

About Painting, Collecting and Legacy

“I imagine that the very great artists attach you even more to life.”
Gustave Caillebotte

Until recently Gustave Caillebotte’s art has been over shadowed by the support he provided to impressionist artists like Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley. 

Independently wealthy from a parental inheritance, Caillebotte was able to indulge his interests that during his twenties and early thirties included painting and which later in life switched to gardening, an interest he shared with Monet, and the building and racing of yachts.

His main support for the impressionists was as a patron buying their works when they were being ridiculed by Paris art establishment. At his death he left some 70 works to the French government stating in his will “I give to the  French State the paintings which I have; nevertheless, since I want this donation be accepted and in such a manner that the paintings go neither in an attic nor in a province museum, but well in the Luxembourg Musem and later in the Louvre Museum, it is necessary that a certain time passes before execution of this clause until the public, I do not say understand, but admit this new painting. This time may be twenty years at the maximum. Until then, my borther Martial, and at his defect another of my heirs, will preserve them. I request Renoir to be my executor.”

The French Government reluctantly accepted 38 of these “drifts of an unhealthy art” upon the death of his brother of which two were by Caillebotte. The majority of the unaccepted works were purchased by Albert C. Barnes and now grace the walls of Pennsylvania’s Barnes Foundation.

About Caillebotte’s paintings the New York Times’ art critic Holland Cotter wrote in 2009 “Gustave Caillebotte is an artist who was an Impressionist by association rather than by style or temperament. His three best-known pictures, "The Floor Scrapers," "Le Pont de l'Europe" and "Paris Street; Rainy Day," all urban scenes from the mid to late 1870s, have more to do with academic realism than with the scintillations of Monet… He fits into no pantheon, matches no ready profile, art historical or otherwise. Or maybe just one, that of the brilliant enthusiast, the prodigious amateur, the obsessed imperfectionist.”

Cotter’s critique almost mirrors that written 130 years earlier by the eminent French writer and critic Emile Zola “Mr. Caillebotte is a very conscientious artist, whose style is a little dry, but who has the courage of great efforts and who seeks with the most virile resolution.”

The National Gallery of Art in Washington is leading a resurgence of interest in Caillebotte’s work with the exhibition Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter's Eye which is on show until the 4th of October.

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