Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)
Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)

Villas à Villers-sur-Mer

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)
Villas à Villers-sur-Mer
signed 'G. Caillebotte' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25½ x 32 in. (64.8 x 81.3 cm.)
Painted in 1880
Emile Billard, Le Havre (gift from the artist, circa 1893).
Private collection, Rouen (by descent from the above).
Kaplan Gallery, London (by 1966).
Hammer Galleries, New York (1974).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 28 June 1988, lot 11.
Mr. and Mrs. Dugan-Chapman, London (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby's, London, 19 June 2006, lot 4.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
M. Bérhaut, La Vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Caillebotte, Paris, 1951, no. 109.
M. Bérhaut, Caillebotte, sa vie et son oeuvre, Paris, 1978, p. 133, no. 150 (illustrated).
M. Bérhaut, Gustave Caillebotte, Catalogue raisonné des peintures et pastels, Paris, 1994, p. 137, no. 162 (illustrated).
London, Kaplan Gallery, A Selection of Impressionist and Post Impressionist Paintings, Watercolours, Pastels and Drawings from the Collection of the Kaplan Gallery, June-July 1966, no. 58 (illustrated; titled Bord de mer, Biarritz; dated circa 1883).
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Lot Essay

The present landscape was painted on the Normandy coast, where Caillebotte, a skilled yachtsman, spent several weeks each summer beginning in 1880, competing in major regattas. It is part of a group of canvases from 1880-1884 that depict opulent villas lining the coast between Villers and Villerville, which Rodolphe Rapetti has described as "the most original works" that Caillebotte painted on his Norman sojourns (Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist, exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1994, p. 257). Caillebotte's work from Normandy marks a critical shift of direction for the artist. Starting in 1880, he focused almost exclusively on landscape and seascape, abandoning the large-scale figure paintings and scenes of contemporary urban life that had formed his mainstay during the previous decade. Stylistically, 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. At the same time, Caillebotte's Norman landscapes retain the predilection for plunging perspectives and unexpected angles that distinguished his work in the 1870s. For example, rather than painting the seaside villas from the beach, a picturesque view that often appears in contemporary travel guides, Caillebotte positioned himself on the high coastal road and directed his gaze over the rooftops, using the surface of the sea as a backdrop. Dorothee Hansen has written, "These compositions exhibit close affinities with his city scenes. As in his views from windows or balconies, he rendered his landscape motifs in a sharp diagonal perspective from an elevated point of view, and as in his images of street canyons, he worked with abrupt transitions between foreground, middle distance, and background" (Gustave Caillebotte, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bremen, 2008, p. 78).

During the mid-nineteenth century, the traditional fishing villages and larger ports along the English Channel had been transformed into seaside resorts catering to Parisian vacationers. By Caillebotte's day, the summer sojourn in Normandy had become an obligatory ritual for prosperous city-dwellers, widely regarded as an extension of bourgeois life in the capital. Unlike Boudin, whose well-known views of the Channel coast depicted this fashionable society of urban holiday-makers, Caillebotte included figures in very few of his works from Normandy. Instead, he evoked the incursion of modern life by painting the newly constructed villas of these summer visitors, just as he had focused in Paris on the transformation of the city's physical fabric under Baron Haussmann. Rapetti has written, "The presence of these recent constructions nestling in the otherwise unblemished coast --and Caillebotte did nothing to elide them: on the contrary, he stressed their intrusive quality--produces a strange effect, one related to his unsettling vision of the modern city... The abruptness with which the buildings are inserted into the landscape is underlined by the use of opposed complementaries, the pink of their walls contrasting starkly with the green hues of the vegetation and the sea. Caillebotte probably intended to exploit the transitional aspect of this landscape, then undergoing radical transformation" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1994, pp. 257 and 265).

Another Impressionist artist who sojourned repeatedly on the Normandy coast during the first half of the 1880s was Caillebotte's close friend Monet, a native of Le Havre. Monet had pioneered the view of a house perched on the edge of a cliff in 1867 with Cabane à Sainte-Adresse (Wildenstein, no. 94; Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva), a painting that Caillebotte would have seen both at the 1877 Impressionist exhibition and at Monet's one-man show at the gallery of the periodical La Vie Moderne in 1880. Although Monet continued to experiment with this motif in the 1880s, most notably at Pourville in 1882 (e.g. Wildenstein, no. 759; Kunsthaus Zurich), the majority of his Norman landscapes from these years show no evidence of man or modernity. 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. Monet, on the other hand, had been interested in that kind of landscape until the late 1870s, after which he preferred nature at its more untouched and exclusive" (exh. cat., op. cit., 2008, pp. 32 and 41-42).

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