27 April 2016

Gustave Caillebotte's Curving Space

Call this a case of premature enlightenmentSomewhere around 1892 Gustave Caillebotte painted Nasturtiums, a work of sinuous beautyits leaves colored lavender, blue, and green subtly harmonized and accented by little red  flower petals.  But the painting is significant in other ways; in the history of painting  Caillebotte's Nasturtiums preceded the Waterlilies of his friend Claude Monet.  And, if you look closely, there are intuitions of the momentous discovery contained in Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity, published in 1905; namely that space is curved by virtue of the energy at work in the time-space continuum.   That is, I think, the movement apparent in Caillebotte's painting mirrors a level of reality not visible to the human eye, but soon to be explicated by physicists. Light, like our perception of it, moves.  As the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza proposed in the 17th century, a human being is a process; we are at the same time ourselves and a part of nature.  

John Rewald dismissed Caillebotte as  an “engineer” in his 1946 survey History of ImpressionismRenoir, on the other hand, insisted on including Caillebotte’s painting The Floor Finishers in his donation to the Louvre's collection.   Often pigeonholed as a minor impressionist, at best a follower, Caillebotte could afford to pursue his art in whatever directions he wanted; having no need to earn his living by the brush, he had no need to sell his work and, today, it remains largely in private hands.   The permanence of forms and their rhythms that provide a framework for Caillebotte's paintings moves  in another direction from the  light dabs of the Impressionists.
Among the Impressionists, Gustave Caillebotte was closest to Monet. Not only was he Monet's friend and patron, the two also  shared  passions for  art and gardeningCaillebotte's work was a major source of inspiration to Monet.  With its decorative dimension and Japanese influence, Caillebotte's  panels, the orchid series and the Marguerites now on exhibition at the Impressionist Museum at Giverny, shed light on Monet's Water-lilies.

With the purchase of the property of Le Petit-Genvilliers at Yerres in 1878, Caillebotte's work took a horticultural turn.  Caillebotte raised orchids and other plants in his greenhouse.  He was at work on two series of four decorative panels intended for his dining room when he died of apoplexy at the age of 45. The panels for the dining room doors contained views of his greenhouse and his treasured orchid plants. On an existing panel the orchids are entwined in the curving metal supports of the greenhouse roof.  

Focusing on the canvases executed at Petit-Gennevilliers, where he settled in 1888, a few years after Monet purchased his country house at Giverny, the exhibition Caillebotte, peintre et jardiniere showcases an artist who celebrated the exuberance of nature, of life itself.

Caillebotte, peintre et jardiniere (Caillebotte, Painter and Gardener) is on view at Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny from March 25 to July 3, 2016.
For more about Gustave Caillebotte, visit Human Flower Project.
Revised: 04/28/2016. Images:
1. Gustave Caillebotte - Nasturtiums, c.1892, private collection, France. 
2. Gustave Caillebotte - In the Greenhouse of Orchids, 1893, private collection, France. 

23 April 2016

The Panache of Anne Vallayer-Coster

In the foreground, a small frond of purple coral rests on a table, establishing  a solid base for a collection of aquatic objects, ones usually found floating in water, seemingly weightless and usually seen as if through a scrim.  These curiosities might well have been the contents of a the collection of an amateur scientist in the 18th century but, none the less full of interest for that, at a time when most scientists were amateurs.

Anne Vallayer-Coster was a master of still life, not least because she was a great arranger of objects.  The title she gave to Les Panches de mer (Plumes from the Sea) tells us how she wanted us to see these life forms out of their natural habitiat.    Pale mauve fan-shaped corals form a backdrop resembling ferns, lighter ones in front are silhouetted against darker ones behind; hard shells and spiny corals are arranged like so many sprigs of flowers.  Meanwhile, the sponge at right  retains all its tactile qualities. 

Her method, which so impressed her contemporaries and impresses us still, was to create a wealth of effects with very finely brushed strokes of oil paint; here  the reds create a marvelous effect by  drawing the eye to spaces within the shells, culminating in the lush sexual pink of the interior conch, reminding us that we are looking at the calcified remains of living, throbbing creatures.  Vallayer-Coster’s style stands apart from  other still life painters in its seamless harmony of illusionism with her deliberately decorative compositions.  Painting with panache, indeed.

Anne Vallayer-Coster was twenty-five years old when she painted Les Panaches de Mer in 1769.  The next year she was elected to the Royal Academy, an institution resistant to admitting women to its ranks; along with Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, she was one of only four women.  In an official statement the members noted  that Vallayer-Coster "painted as well as a man."( translation JL)   Her work was admired both at court and among the rising merchant class.  It was exhibited at the official Salon in 1771.   

Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818) was born into a family of artists; her mother painted miniatures and her father Louis-Joseph Vallayer was related to the Gobelins of tapestry fame and goldsmith to the King.
Although still life painting was considered the least intellectual of genres, Vallayer-Coster dazzled viewers with her  “precocious talent and the rave reviews” that greeted her workfrom, among other luminaries, Denis Diderot attracting the attention of Marie Antoinette. It was the Queen who  signed the official marriage contract between Vallayer and Jean-Pierre-Sylvestre Coster, when the two married on April 21, 1781.  Thanks to the Queen, Valley-Coster was given a choice apartment at the Louvre, then the royal residence in Paris, directly beneath the main gallery.  All this would be changed soon after the Revolution when the monarchy was deposed and   the building became a museum open to the public.
Due to her close association with Marie Anoinette, Vallayer-Coster's career was put on hold by the  Revolution but she stayed in Paris and remained loyal to her Queen; she was allowed to resume  exhibiting at the Salon in 1795, and continuing until the year before her death.

Anne Vallaey-Coster - Les Panaches de mer, 1769, Louvre Museum, Paris.