Gustave Caillebotte: Paris Street, Rainy Day – 1877
Art Institute, Chicago
This monumental painting (over 2 metres by 3 metres) depicts a newly developed area of the city – part of the transformation of Paris planned by Baron Haussmann. This complex intersection is in the 8th arrondissement, known as the Quartier d’lEurope as all the streets are named after major European cities: it is close to the Gare Saint-Lazare, the station much painted by Claude Monet. Caillebotte’s early life was spent near this district before it was redeveloped and consequently he saw the new boulevards gradually rise to replace the streets and lanes he knew as a child.
The principal, life sized, figures saunter towards us down the rue de Turin, the gentleman carrying an umbrella which is big enough to shelter both himself and his partner. It seems that this may soon clash with the umbrella carried by the figure entering the composition from the extreme right whose cropped form is testimony to Caillebotte’s interest in photography in common with others in the Impressionist circle (most prominently Edgar Degas).
This painting was exhibited at the 3rd Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 which Caillebotte organised and helped to finance. There it caught the eye of reviewers, one of whom favourably compared him with his compatriots in that ‘he knows how to draw and paints more seriously than his friends’. In some respects the Rainy Day deviates from the tenets of Impressionism, the monumental size being more in tune with the scale of work seen at the Salon and Caillebotte eschews the freer handling of paint one sees in paintings by Monet and Renoir etc. However he is in tune with his Impressionist friends in that he paints life in the modern city and in this composition he does so using a tilted perspective, characteristic of many of his works, and an interesting spatial scheme. The couple and the gentleman entering from the right are crammed into the right half of the picture – a central lamppost underlines the division of the composition – to the left the scene opens out, the rain-soaked cobbles leading the eye towards the dramatically receding intersection. Other figures cross the somewhat austere urban expanse, the scale of which the artist has exaggerated by decreasing the size of the people in relation to the building, which of course still exists.
Caillebotte’s father was a wealthy businessman supplying uniforms to the military – his death in 1874 followed by his mother’s demise in 1878 meant that Gustave was rendered financially independent and able to paint without the economic pressures which were so burdensome for other members of the Impressionist group. It also meant that he could support many of them by buying their canvasses - often at inflated prices. When Caillebotte died at a tragically early age his collection was gifted to the nation and now forms a major part of the Musée d’Orsay’s Impressionist holdings.
Caillebotte's work was almost totally forgotten until the 1960’s. His star has now risen to considerable heights with multimillion prices paid for any works which appear on the market.
1877 Claude Monet, Gare Saint- Lazare, Paris, Musée d’Orsay
1877 Edward Burne-Jones, The Beguiling of Merlin, Port Sunlight, Lady Lever Art Gallery
1877 James Tissot, Portrait of Mrs Catherine Smith Gill and two of her children, Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery