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La Place de l'Europe, temps de pluie (Gustave Caillebotte, 1877)

This very simple image from a relatively obscure French painter is one that I’ve counted among my favorites for a long time. La Place de l’Europe, temps de pluie, which translates roughly into The Europe Square, Rain, was painted by Gustave Caillebotte in 1877. The Art Institute of Chicago, where I saw this painting a decade ago, has it labeled Paris Street, Rainy Day. Sometimes, I guess, the value of titles can be overblown.

The painter, who died on this day in 1894, is counted among the French Impressionists but I see him as more of a realist. His association with the Impressionists comes mainly from exhibiting and hanging out with them and borrowing things from their styles.

I came to like Caillebotte as I began to learn more about him. He was wealthy and painted for the pure love of it. He was also an avid photographer interested in photography and you can see the influence photography had in his paintings. In his day he was far better known as an art collector and patron than as an artist in his own right. He was the classic dilettante.

I was a bit surprised when I saw this painting in Chicago because I had previously not known that it was an actual painting. I’d seen the image a lot, but because no one had ever bothered to mention the painter’s name, I just assumed that it was one of those fake knock-off decorations that they sell at places like Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I thought wrong, as it turns out. and it was pretty inspiring to see it. It is, an a word, HUGE, over nine feet wide. Much bigger than those posters at Deck the Walls.

If I could paint, I could be very happy painting scenes like this one, scenes of everyday life in real and beautiful places. This way, I could leave out the things I didn’t like and I wouldn’t be distracted by ugliness and decay. Then,  if I could, I would like to sit around and drink red wine and talk art and politics and literature with my sophisticated friends. I think I’m well-suited to the life of a dilettante, I just never had the money.

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2 Comments

  1. Note the correction based on your comments. Thanks for reading.

    As for whether or not Caillebotte could be described as a dabbler, well, that’s an open question in my mind. He was known to vary considerably in style throughout his career and to borrow influences from other painters. Rest assured that no offense was intended when I described him as a dilettante. The word was used in reference to his painting for the for the pleasure of it. One can only admire him for that.

  2. A few slight corrections. Gustave painted 500 paintings by the time he died at the age of 45, which compares with the 1200 paintings Edgar Degas painted in 83 years. Gustave was no dabbler. But because he loved art so much, he is reason the French impressionist movement survived as long as it did, and made such an impact. To this day, he alone had the single largest collection of French impressionist paintings when he died, even excluding his own.

    His brother, Martial, was the photographer, not Gustave. Please visit our family’s genealogy blog for other historical facts not found elsewhere, at http://www.MyFamilyJules.com


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