[French Impressionist Painter, 1848-1894]
Gustave Caillebotte was born on August 19, 1848 to an upper-class Parisian family. His father, Martial Caillebotte (1799-1874), was the inheritor of the family's textile industry and was also a judge at the Seine's Tribunal de Commerce. Caillebotte's father had been twice widdowed before marrying Caillebotte's mother, Céleste Daufresne (1819-1878), who had two more sons after Gustave, René (1851-1876) and Martial (1853-1910).
Caillebotte was born at his family's home on rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis in Paris, and lived on that street until 1866 when his father had a home built on rue de Miromesnil in Paris. The Caillebottes began spending many of their summers in Yerres, a town on the Yerres River about 12 miles south of Paris, in 1860, when Martial Caillebotte, Sr. bought a large property there. It was around this time that Caillebotte probably began to draw and paint. Many of Caillebotte's paintings depict members of his family and daily domestic life; Young Man at His Window, 1875, shows René in the home on rue de Miromesnil, The Orange Trees, 1878, depicts Martial Jr. and his cousin Zoë in the garden of the family property at Yerres, and Portraits in the Country, 1875, includes Caillebotte's mother along with his aunt, cousin, and a family friend.
Caillebotte earned a law degree in 1868 and a license to practice law in 1870. Shortly afterwards, He was drafted to fight in the Franco-Prussian war, and served in the Garde Mationale Mobile de la Seine. After the war, Caillebotte began visiting the studio of painter Léon Bonnat, where he began to seriously study painting. In 1873, Caillebotte entered into the École des Beaux-Arts, but apparently did not spend much time there. Around this time, Caillebotte met and befriended several artists working outside the official French academy, including Edgar Degas and Giuseppe de Nittis, and attended (but did not participate in) the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874.
Caillebotte's sizeable allowance and the inheritance he received after the death of his father in 1874 and his mother in 1878 allowed him to paint without the pressure to sell his work. It also allowed him to help fund Impressionist Exhibitions and support his fellow artists and friends (including Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pissarro among others) by purchasing their works and, at least in the case of Monet, paying the rent for their studios. In addition, Caillebotte used his wealth to fund a variety of hobbies for which he was quite passionate, including stamp collecting (his collection is now in the British Museum), orchid horticulture, yacht building, and even textile design (the women in his paintings Madame Boissière Knitting, 1877, and Portrait of Madame Caillebotte, 1877, may be working on patterns created by Caillebotte).
Gustave Caillebotte. Paris Street, Rainy Weather. 1877. Art Institute of Chicago.Caillebotte's style belongs to the school of Realism. As did his predecessors Jean-Francois Millet and Gustave Courbet, as well his contemporary Degas, Caillebotte aimed to paint reality as it existed and as he saw it, hoping to reduce painting's inherent theatricality. He also shared the Impressionists' commitment to optical truth. Caillebotte painted many domestic, familial scenes, interiors, and figures in a landscape at Yerres, but he is most well known for his paintings of urban Paris, such as The Floor Scrapers, 1875, Le pont de l'Europe, 1876, and Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877. These paintings were quite controversial for their banal and often lower-class subjects, and for their exaggerated, plunging perspective. The tilted ground common to these paintings is very characteristic of Caillebotte's work, which may have been strongly influenced by Japanese prints and the new technology of photography. Cropping and "zooming in," techniques which are also commonly found in Caillebotte's oeuvre, may also be the result of his interest in photography. A large number of Caillebotte's works also employ a very high vantage point, including his many balcony paintings such as Vue des toits, effet de neige, 1878 and Boulevard vu d'en haut, 1880.
Caillebotte's painting career slowed dramatically in the 1890s, when he stopped making large canvases and showing his work. He acquired a property at Petit Gennevilliers, on the banks of the Seine near Argenteuil, in 1881, and moved there permanently in 1888. He devoted himself to gardening and to building and racing yachts, and spent much time with his brother, Martial, and his friend Renoir, who often came to stay at Petit Gennevilliers. Caillebotte died prematurely, while working in his garden at Petit Gennevilliers in 1894 of pulmonary congestion, and was interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.