27 April 2016

Gustave Caillebotte's Curving Space

You could 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 and fellow artist Claude Monet.  And, if you look closely, there are intuitions of themomentous 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. 

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