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Tag Archives: Gustave Caillebotte

Apologies to both Shakespeare and to Steinbeck, both of whom had used those words, in PG-13 form and with much greater literary impact.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this winter has been long, brutally cold, and snowy. I’ve hated just about every minute of it and that’s not typical for me. Ordinarily, I find beauty and elegance in the winter landscape and have frequently photographed it. Not this time.

Take this morning, for example. When Tammy and I got up, she to get ready for work, me to put the coffee on, it was officially  -6 degrees outside. The average daily high temperature for the final day of February (Leap Years notwithstanding) is 37 degrees. It’s been a particularly ugly winter for the last two months. I’m over it.

Still, winter does possess a stark and forbidding beauty that’s undeniable. Low sun and dark blue shadows create mood and texture that you can only find on the shortest of days.

Rooftops in the Snow (Gustave Caillebotte -1878)

Rooftops in the Snow (Gustave Caillebotte -1878)

Caillebotte‘s “Rooftops” sets a somber tone that, I suspect, mirrors the mood of the unseen inhabitants beneath those snow-covered roofs in rooms that I imagine were far colder and draftier than the one I sit in now.

Brighter and more cheerful winter images of the winter landscape dominate the work of Walter Launt Palmer (1854-1932),  a painter who came from, and eventually resettled in, Upstate New York and found in the winter landscape his most frequent muse. Most of his winter paintings showed us a calm and beautiful land in elegant slumber, waiting for the warmth of spring to awaken it. A little like us, I suppose, or me anyway, as I bide my time thinking of longer, warmer days ahead.

Upland Stream (Walter Launt Palmer, 1904)

Upland Stream (Walter Launt Palmer, 1904)

But even Palmer, unabashed lover of the winter landscape, couldn’t help but show us the more difficult side of the season, one of those nights when you find yourself out against your will, immersed in the elements, wishing you could be home in front of your fireplace, curled up with a cup of tea and a good book. His Albany in the Snow takes me out into the storm so vividly that I can almost feel the bone-chilling wind.

Albany in the Snow (Walter Launt Palmer, 1871)

Albany in the Snow (Walter Launt Palmer, 1871)

The day will soon come when Spring will  show herself and the annual rebirth will begin. I will not mourn the passing of the winter of 2013-14, but I may secretly look forward to the next winter and hope that it’s more to my liking. I find myself in need of a rebirth of my own, having created nothing of consequence in more than two years. Somethings as simple, as routine, as a break in the weather will be what I need. I will make it true.


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.