The Comité Caillebotte has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Caillebotte was born to a wealthy family in 1848 and spent his childhood among the Parisian elite, enjoying the financial benefits of the textile business which his father had inherited. Though he attended the Lycée Louis Le Grand and obtained a law degree at his father's urging in 1870, Caillebotte shifted his focus almost immediately thereafter to embark on a serious study of the visual arts. Joining the studio of the Academic painter Léon Bonnat (who later trained such noted painters as Georges Braque and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec), Caillebotte experienced lifelong financial security which allowed him the freedom to paint without the necessity of selling his work, as well as to serve as an important patron for his contemporaries in the Impressionist group. Caillebotte enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1873, however records indicate that his attendance there was rather sporadic as his interest in a more avant-garde manner of painting developed. Like many of his contemporaries, Caillebotte was classically trained but ultimately rejected Academic conventions, preferring instead to create more daring compositions with fresher, brighter palettes and unconventional perspectival modes.
In 1881 Gustave Caillebotte and his brother Martial bought property in the small village of Petit Gennevilliers across the river from Argenteuil in Normandy. Caillebotte was an avid yachtsman and the presence of the nearby sailing club, Cercle de la Voile de Paris, was an important factor in making his choice. The timing of his purchase was also a response to his growing disillusionment with Parisian life. The infighting among his fellow Impressionists culminated with his resignation as organizer of the group's seventh exhibition in 1882, which was then assembled by Durand-Ruel, the Impressionists' dealer. He settled permanently in Petit Gennevilliers in 1887.
Caillebotte's home and gardens, as well as its surrounding environs provided the artist with a rich source of subjects for his painting. Argenteuil's scenery itself was beautiful, but of particular interest to Caillebotte was its mixture of landscape and technology, of pastoral idyll and modernity. The bridges and boats provided some remarkable feats of modern engineering, and so Argenteuil provided a perfect setting for the still shocking portrayal of the modern world within the context of the traditional genre of the landscape and rivers. His appreciation of the beauty of the area is made clear by the substantial number of landscape subjects he painted after 1881. Painting directly from nature, he began to eschew the crisp contours and finished accents of his Paris paintings in favor of a more Impressionist idiom characterized by free and animated handling.
In Prairie au Pont d’Argenteuil, the bridge forms an unexpected diagonal in a composition that otherwise consists of well delineated transitions between foreground, middle distance and background. Richard Thomson has concluded, “Whether painting villas at Trouville, canoes on the Yerres or the plain of Gennevilliers, Caillebotte consistently savored man’s intrusion in or impact on nature” (Gustave Caillebotte, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bremen, 2008, p. 32).
Gustave Caillebotte, 1878.