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Gustave Caillebotte was a French painter, member and patron of the group of artists known as Impressionists, though he painted in a much more realistic manner than many other artists in the group. Caillebotte was noted for his early interest in photography as an artform.
He was born to an upper-class Parisian family. His father was the inheritor of the family's military textile business and was also a judge at the Seine department's Tribunal de Commerce. Caillebotte was born at home on rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis in Paris, and lived there until 1866 when his father had a home built on rue de Miromesnil. Beginning in 1860, the Caillebotte family began spending many of their summers in Yerres, a town on the Yerres River. It was around this time that Caillebotte probably began to draw and paint. Caillebotte earned a law degree in 1868 and a license to practice law in 1870. He was also an engineer. After the Franco-Prussian war he began visiting the studio of painter LĂ©on Bonnat, where he began to seriously study painting. He developed an accomplished style in a relatively short period of time and had his first studio in his parents' home. In 1873, Caillebotte entered into the Ă‰cole des Beaux-Arts. Around 1874, 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 did make his debut in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876 showing eight paintings. Its subject matter, the depiction of laborers preparing a wooden floor, was considered â€śvulgarâ€ť by some critics and is the probable reason why it was rejected by the Salon of 1875. At the time, the art establishment only deemed rustic peasants or farmers as acceptable subjects from the working class. A second version, in a more realistic style resembling that of Degas, was also exhibited, demonstrating Caillebotteâ€™s range of technique and his adept restatement of the same subject matter. Caillebotte's style belongs to the School of Realism but was strongly influenced by his Impressionist associates. In common with his precursors, 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. Perhaps because of his close relationship with so many of his peers, his style and technique varies considerably among his works, as if â€śborrowingâ€ť and experimenting, but not really sticking to any one style. At times, he seems very much in the Degas camp of rich-colored realism (especially his interior scenes) and at other times, he shares the Impressionists' commitment to "optical truth" and employs an impressionistic pastel-softness and loose brush strokes most similar to Renoir and Pissarro, though with a less vibrant palette. Caillebotte painted many domestic and familial scenes, interiors, and portraits. His country scenes at Yerres focus on pleasure boating on the leisurely stream as well as fishing and swimming, and domestic scenes around his country home. Often, he used a soft impressionistic technique reminiscent of Renoir to convey the tranquil nature of the countryside, in sharp contrast to the flatter, smoother strokes of his urban paintings. The latter is almost unique among his works for its particularly flat colors and photo-realistic effect which gives the painting its distinctive and modern look, almost akin to American Realists. 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, though evidence of his actual use of photography is lacking. Cropping and "zooming-in," techniques which are also commonly found in Caillebotte's oeuvre, may also be the result of his interest in photography, but may just as likely derive from his intense interest in perspective effects. Caillebotte's still-life paintings focus primarily on food, some at table ready to be eaten and some ready to be purchased, as in a series of paintings he made of meat at a butcher shop He also produced some floral still life paintings, particularly in the 1890s. Rounding out his subject matter, he painted a few nudes. Caillebotte's painting career slowed dramatically in the early 1890s, when he stopped making large canvases. Caillebotte died of pulmonary congestion while working in his garden at Petit-Gennevilliers in 1894 at age 45.
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