Friday, May 21, 2010

Gustave Caillebotte

 The Floor Scrapers. 1875. Oil on canvas. H. 102; W. 146.5 cm © RMN, Hervé Lewandowski

This painting is one of the first representations of urban proletariat. Whereas peasants (Gleaners by Millet) or country workers (Stone Breakers by Courbet) had often been shown, city workers had seldom been painted. Unlike Courbet or Millet, Caillebotte does not incorporate any social, moralising or political message in his work. His thorough documentary study (gestures, tools, accessories) justifies his position among the most accomplished realists.

The perspective, accentuated by the high angle shot and the alignment of floorboards complies with tradition. The artist drew one by one all the parts of his painting, according to the academic method, before reporting them using the square method on the canvas. The nude torsos of the planers are those of heroes of Antiquity, it would be unimaginable for Parisian workers of those times. But far from closeting himself in academic exercises, Caillebotte exploited their rigour in order to explore the contemporary universe in a completely new way.

Caillebotte presented his painting at the 1875 Salon. The Jury, no doubt shocked by its crude realism, rejected it (some critics talked of "vulgar subject matter"). The young painter then decided to join the impressionists and presented his painting at the second exhibition of the group in 1876, where Degas exhibited his first Ironers. Critics were struck by this great modern tableau, Zola, in particular, although he condemned this "painting that is so accurate that it makes it bourgeois".

Currently showing at the Impressionist show at the De Young Museum in San Francisco


Liz Hager said...

This is one of my absolute favorites in the d'Orsay, so thanks for devoting special attention to it.

There must have been great tittering behind fans at the time over the unabashed "sensuality" of those muscled backs... Additionally, I quite like the piles of curled wood on the reflective floor and the way the two men exchange words.

Just for fun, you might want to revisit VR's "wish list," created when news of the d'Orsay collection's SF trip was released.

Here: Fortune Smiles
Here: Ten Plus One

namastenancy said...

It looks like we didn't get quite a few of the things WE would have chosen - no Bonard, no Vulliard, and no Rousseau. I really didn't think they would send Olympia and Dejuner but one can always hope. I see that we share an awestruck admiration for Manet's "Asparagus." It's so subtle and yet so stunning that I could have stood in front of it for hours.