Caillebotte was born in Paris in 1848 into a wealthy family. He first trained in engineering but became interested in art, enrolling at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts. In 1874, Caillebotte met Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir — two artists whom he would champion and offer financial support — and with them showed his paintings at the 1876 Impressionist Exhibition. In fact, Caillebotte was to become the driving force behind subsequent Impressionist exhibitions, and he regularly purchased canvases by his contemporaries including Monet, Edgar Degas and Berthe Morisot, among others.
Caillebotte’s own paintings showed the world that he inhabited — that of bourgeoise Paris. Yet he did not shy away from class implications, as seen for example in his celebrated painting Les Raboteurs de parquet (The Floor Scrapers), held in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. He relied on vertiginous angles and plunging viewpoints to capture the experience of being, painting scenes from his family’s home on the rue de Miromesnil, portraits of gentleman, and the urban landscape such as in Rue de Paris, temps de pluie (Paris Street; Rainy Day).
Alongside painting, Caillebotte was a passionate sailor who participated in regattas and designed more than 20 of his own boats. His first race was in Argenteuil, a short distance away from the French capital, but quickly he began to participate in those held along the Normandy coast. In Trouville, the seaside town fashionable with Parisians, Caillebotte would set up his easel and paint the rooftops and villas that dotted the coastline.
Indeed, by the 1880s, Caillebotte’s imagery had shifted away from urban realism, in part owing to his decision to move out of Paris. With his brother Martial, in 1881 Caillebotte had purchased a house in Petit-Gennevilliers, a small village on the Seine. Swept up by the exotic plants now being sold across Europe, he began to devote his time to his garden, constructing a greenhouse to house orchids and planting dahlias, irises and daisies, among other plants. These flowers, in turn, became the subjects of his late canvases, compositions lavished with paint and colour that defied the conventions of the era.
Caillebotte died in 1894 at the age of 45. He left behind a remarkable collection of art — including Édouard Manet’s Le balcon (The Balcony) and Monet’s La Gare Saint-Lazare (The Gare Saint-Lazare) — much of which is now in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay.