The Comité Caillebotte has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The presence of women in Caillebotte's work is rare relative to his contemporaries, such as Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who granted them a central part in their art. Spending most of his life as a bachelor, Caillebotte lived with his brother, Martial, for several decades in their apartment on boulevard Haussmann, depicted in many paintings by the artist, before the latter married in 1887. At this time, the artist settled permanently in the house he had purchased in Le Petit Gennevilliers in 1880, with his loyal and companion, Anne-Marie Hagen.
The relationship with Anne-Marie was kept as quiet as possible, particularly from the artist's family. When she discovered the liaison, the artist's sister-in-law, Marie Caillebotte, refused to see the couple and forbade her husband to do so. The cool reception of the family added to the painter's extreme modesty when it came to personal matters and may explain why Anne-Marie's imprint on Caillebotte's life and work remains obscure more than a century later. Nevertheless, she was a faithful companion for the painter for almost two decades, and lived with him until his untimely death in 1894, inheriting his house at Le Petit Gennevilliers in the event.
The sitter appears regularly in Caillebotte's oeuvre, most often anonymously, though occasionally under the assumed name Charlotte Berthier. But in fact she is depicted in many works, including portraits, garden scenes and even nudes, including the nearly life-size Nu au divan, where she hides behind her arm in an attempt not to be recognized (Berhaut, no. 184; Minneapolis Institute of Arts). But Anne-Marie's most famous representation undoubtedly remains her likeness in Le pont de l'Europe (Berhaut, no. 44; Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva; fig. 1). Presented as an élégante walking across the bridge towards the viewer, she has just been overtaken by a dandy, the artist himself, who cannot help turning his head to catch another glimpse of her beauty. Is she walking on her own because Caillebotte wants the central figure to be perceived as the archetypal, independent flâneur, or because he is making a subtle reference to the secrecy of their relationship?
As for the present portrait, the identity of the sitter is conspicuously unnamed, although she is identified as Mlle Hagen in Berhaut's catalogue raisonné. The subject gazes distantly at the room as if overhearing a conversation between close friends. The look on her face is not the one of a woman prisoner of her destiny, kept under the pressure of a disapproving family. Depicted on a monochromatic background, as the unique focal point of the painting, she seems to be confident and serene, under her partner's eye. If the painter withdraws from the composition any element which could distract the audience from focusing on the sitter, he devotes a great care to the details likely to enhance the intensity of the contemplation. The bright pink of the flower at her collar, the sparkling gold of her earrings and the glowing purple framing her head are so many subtle tokens of Caillebotte's penchant for "expressive likeness" (M. Berhaut, op. cit., 1994, p. 42).
(fig. 1) Gustave Caillebotte, Le pont de l'Europe, 1876. Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva.