Gustave Caillebotte 1848-1894 BACK

Paris Street, Rainy Day
oil on canvas 221x276cm
Art Institute of Chicago

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Caillebotte's ambitious modem history painting Paris Street; Rainy Day, much like his Floor-Scrapers, shown the previous year, secured the artist critical appreciation at the Impressionist exhibition in 1877 for its "science of design and arrangement. "According to one reviewer, it was a canvas "that, despite the bizarre quality of some of its details and its jerky handling ... would still figure honorably beside pictures receiving the approval of the Champs-Elysees (official Salon) jury." Indeed, in the relative finish of its brushwork, in the well studied rationality of its composition, and especially in its impressive size, Paris Street--despite the shocking modernity of its subject-must have looked familiarly academic in 1877, betraying Caillebotte's recent study with the Salon artist Leon Bonnat. It even prompted one critic to exclaim that "M. Caillebotte is an Impressionist in name only," because in comparison to many of his colleagues who were being derided for daring to exhibit sketches as finished works of art, this painting demonstrated that Caillebotte "knows how to draw and paint more seriously. . . ."The fact that Caillebotte followed an academic rather than "Impressionist" method in many of the large paintings of his early career is evidenced by a group of preparatory drawings and oil sketches for Paris Street, through which the artist developed and altered his original conception for the picture. These studies and sketches certainly attest to the 'considerable effort' described by the critic Georges Riviere in 1877 in reference to the painting, and "how difficult it was and how much skill was necessary to complete a canvas of these dimensions." Nevertheless, they also demonstrate the lengths to which the artist went in order to construct an image that would appear at once both obsessively ordered and precariously fragile-a construction that constitutes the very basis of the picture's meaning.

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