Gustave Caillebotte: Impressions Of A Changing Paris Impressionist paintings of Paris often depict a city full of sun-dappled socialites: dancing, shopping, boating and schmoozing. But for painter and patron Gustave Caillebotte, Paris was a darker, lonelier place.
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Gustave Caillebotte: Impressions Of A Changing Paris

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Gustave Caillebotte: Impressions Of A Changing Paris

Gustave Caillebotte: Impressions Of A Changing Paris

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

But NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg says one of them had a very different perspective.

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLES)

SUSAN STAMBERG: How do you say the name of the painter?

NICOLAS SAINTE FARE GARNOT: It's Gustave Caillebotte.

STAMBERG: Caillebut?

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: Caillebotte.

STAMBERG: Caillebut

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: Botte. Caillebotte.

STAMBERG: C-A-I-L-L-E-B-O-T-T-E, Caillebotte.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: Rainy Day", from 1877, is not in the exhibition. The Art Institute of Chicago owns it. Vast cobblestone street stretching out in front of wedges of buildings - pointy ends towards us. The street dotted with dark umbrellas that shelter men in top hats and long-skirted women, all looking vague, disoriented. That was a major subject of Caillebotte's - what the modernization of Paris was doing to its people.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: They seem to be quite alone.

STAMBERG: Nicolas Sainte Fare Garnot, curator of the Jacquemart-Andre Museum.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: Every person is lost in a very wide world.

STAMBERG: Caillebotte paints men leaning on new bridges, engulfed by steel girders. Men on balconies looking down at the Boulevard Haussmann above, yet somehow dwarfed by the street.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: The modern life doesn't create a close relation between human beings. You are completely lonely in these new buildings, new boulevards, new avenues and streets. And there is something quite sad about that, you know.

STAMBERG: Caillebotte's contemporaries - Renoir, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro - also put this modern Paris in their paintings. But theirs is a Paris peopled by happy dancers, or sociable boaters, or busy shoppers, or flag-waving parade marchers.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: They just wanted to show pleasant persons or funny activities. Not that kind of loneliness that you find here.

STAMBERG: Not himself an Impressionist, Caillebotte loved what those painters and others were doing and befriended them. Manet, first.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: And after you find Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Cezanne.

STAMBERG: He got to know them at cafes. Manet had the habit of receiving friends at the Cafe Guerbois. Caillebotte decided to do the same.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: He offered, you know, drinks and so on, once a week for everyone. And that's the way he met all these painters.

STAMBERG: If you wine them, they will come. Caillebotte not only wined them and dined them, he loaned them money; paid the rent on Monet's studio for a while. And most important, he bought their paintings for top dollar.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: Caillebotte was a very wealthy man.

STAMBERG: His father had made a fortune supplying Napoleon's army with uniforms, bedding, other materials. Gustave inherited the fortune at age 26.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: And he just wanted to help the Impressionist painters. So he purchased about 64 paintings from Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro and all the others.

STAMBERG: A great patron of the arts, Caillebotte's first-rate art collection became what today is the crux of the Impressionist holdings at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris; although for a while, he or his executors couldn't give them away.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: It's a pity in fact that when he offered all the collection to the French state, at that time the minister of fine arts wasn't pleased at all by the donation, and he refused it.

STAMBERG: He turned them away?

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: Yes.

STAMBERG: The custom then was for the state to accept only works by dead painters. But curator Sainte Fare Garno says there was another problem.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: But in fact, you must understand that they did not appreciate at all the style.

STAMBERG: Critics of the day felt the Impressionist works were crudely painted, looked unfinished, hasty. No place for them in prestigious, official French collections. Seven years after Caillebotte's death, after much wrangling and negotiation, his bequest of Impressionist treasures was accepted by the government of France.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: Well, at the end, he accepted about 40 paintings but the other were sent to the family.

STAMBERG: Forty out of 60 that were offered?

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: Yes.

STAMBERG: What was his name, this minister of fine arts?

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: Well, I'm afraid I don't remember it. I think its Anton de Proust. I'm not sure.

STAMBERG: This is a name that should live in infamy.

SAINTE FARE GARNOT: Sure. Sure.

STAMBERG: I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

And you can see some of Caillebotte's paintings at our website, NPR.org.

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