Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter's Eye is currently showing at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. The Kimbell is no stranger to exhibiting works by masters of the Impressionist movement; pieces by artists like Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Monet and Pissarro have been on display and are in the museum’s permanent collection. With The Painter’s Eye, which opened in November and runs until February 14th, the curators Mary Morton (National Gallery, Washington, D.C.) and George T.M. Shackelford (Kimbell), show the very best work of the lesser known Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894).
Gustave Caillebotte (pronounced kai-yah-bott) was born into an upper class family and because of the support from his family’s investments, selling his artwork was neither a necessity nor a motivator as it was for the other Impressionists. Although he was a great champion and patron of the movement, he has been coined the lesser-known Impressionist because the majority of his life is a mystery; he didn’t leave behind any legers or journals, though there are letters, and he died at 45.
Arguably his most famous work “Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877),” is owned by the Chicago Art Institute, and people recognize it as an iconic piece but rarely know who painted it. It is an encapsulating piece for the artist; cropped subjects much like a photograph, the utilization of geometric lines to pull the viewer’s eye into the scene and across the canvas, a view of bustling Paris.
The Painter’s Eye sets out to highlight the importance of Caillebotte’s work, focusing on the years Caillebotte was most connected with the Impressionists, the period between 1875 and 1882. The show is organized by subject or series, “River Views,” “Suburban Views,” “Looking Out,” “Looking In;” each propelling the audience’s gaze where Caillebotte wanted it, taking them to a Parisian boulevard, a quiet and tension filled luncheon, or a game of bezique.
My personal favorite was the still life section. While not the highlight of Caillebotte’s work or any Impressionist’s for that matter, though they all did still life paintings, these pieces were both beautiful and rough. There were depictions of fruits on a stand at market, sugary sweets in bright colors aligned on a table (something that looked like a 19th Century Wayne Thiebaud) and there were works with ducks hanging and butcher shop meats; a great juxtaposition of subject matter done with the beautiful commingling hand of Caillebotte, one where Realism continues to blur and morph into the Impressionistic.
“The Floor Scrapers,” is another show stealer. It is Caillebotte’s first major work that he submitted to the academic Salon, which turned down the work. It is an image of three bare-chested workers on their knees scraping the varnish off the wood floor of a room. The rejection of this piece led Caillebotte to turn to the Impressionists, who welcomed him into their circle.
Though The Painter's Eye will not heave Gustave Caillebotte into the ranks of the household name Impressionists, it is a fantastic show that puts the spotlight on an underappreciated and very talented artist with the exhibition of some wonderful paintings. This is a show worth seeing.