Gustave Caillebotte 1848-1894 BACK

oil on canvas 96x116cm
Private Collection

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Oarsmen offers an image of the sport involving a moderate degree of exertion: two men in standard boating attire, jerseys, and straw hats are shown rowing, in a sturdy boat; one man's face is hidden and the other's is only vaguely delineated, which obliges the viewer to focus on the two pairs of arms, symbols of effort and movement. The artist's point of view is that of someone standing in the boat or looking down on it from a bridge, allowing for a plunging, arrowlike compositional scheme, moderated somewhat by the horizontals of the oars, the front rower's seat, and the splashing wavelets, only a few of which are affected by the hull's advance.

The work's originality made it irresistible to the caricaturists: Draner simplified it in the process of interpreting it (a rowers boat shown sinking); curiously, Bec , who reproduced the composition more or less accurately, cropped the head of the second oarsman in a rather labored attempt at a joke: M. Roch, thp Paris executioner, had just died, as is confirmed in the issue of L'Illustration dated May 3, 1879. Was Bec poking fun at the arbitrary croppings often criticized in Impressionist work, or was he responding to an earlier state of the painting? Only examination under ultraviolet and infrared rays would allow us to answer this question definitively. In any event, a drawing squared for transfer' has exactly the same composition, but it is not easy to determine its precise relationship to the picture. Is it a preparatory study, or was it done after the fact, despite the squaring?

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