The Comité Caillebotte has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
In the mid-19th century Napoleon III empowered Baron Haussmann, his urban architect, to redesign the old city center of Paris by replacing its crowded and narrow streets with a modern system of open squares, tree-lined avenues and public parks. Paris was thus transformed into a fully integrated cosmopolitan and international capital. The boulevard had now become, without question, the axis upon which the social activities of the city revolved. La vie moderne, as described by the poet Charles Baudelaire and other observers of the contemporary scene, was now lived outdoors, in public, on the new city streets. The flâneur, or the dandy, was the archetypal figure for whom, "the street becomes a dwelling. He [the flâneur] is as much at home among the facades of the houses as a citizen is in his four walls. The walls are the desk against which he presses his notebooks; news-stands are his libraries and the terraces of his cafés are the balconies from which he looks down on his household after his work is done." Gustave Caillebotte, together with Manet, Degas and other artists of the Batignolles group, embodied the Baudelairean spirit of the artist-flâneur, the urbane and well-dressed gentleman painter of modern life. Fashioning a sophisticated style of urban Impressionism in the 1870s and early 1880s, Caillebotte celebrated the new life of the city and featured its renovated boulevards and architecture in radical and daring compositions such as as La rue Halévy, vue d'un balcon.
Gustave Caillebotte's focus on urban themes intensified after 1879, when, after his mother's death, the artist left his family's home located at the corner of the rue de Miromesnil and the rue de Lisbonne, and moved to a sixth floor apartment on the boulevard Haussmann. From this elevated vantage-point, he could observe the expansive vistas of the grand boulevards and the busy pulse of its pedestrian and vehicular traffic. He recorded these magnificent views in his paintings, highlighting its landmarks, such as the dome of Garnier's Opera House, visible at upper right in the present painting. Above all, Caillebotte was seduced by the representation of the city captured from his balcony in one of these new bourgeois buildings being erected around the city. According to the precepts put forth by Edmond Duranty in The New Painting, it is not surprising that Caillebotte, himself a bourgeois urbanite, executed many of his paintings while perched high above the city streets:
From indoors we communicate with the outside world through windows. A window is yet another frame that is continually with us during the time we spend at home, and that time is considerable. Depending on whether we are near or far, seated or standing, the window frames the scene outside in the most unexpected and changeable ways, providing us with constantly changing impromptu views that are the great delights of life (E. Duranty, The New Painting, Paris, 1876, reprinted and translated, San Francisco, 1986, p. 45).
Caillebotte was intrigued by the idea of capturing the plunging view of the rue Halévy, which he depicted in two of his most celebrated canvases of the late 1870s - the present work and La rue Halévy, vue du sixième étage (private collection; B. 100). Instead of treating the steep form of the receding street on a vertical canvas, he elected in both paintings to use a horizontal landscape format. He depicted the recently erected multi-story buildings of the quartier by employing accurate perspective, lending convincing depth to the composition, while at the same time playing off this convention against the stacked flatness of the shapes, an idea that he very likely derived from Japanese woodblock prints. Moreover, he contrasted the firm architecture of the scene with the looseness of his Impressionist brushstroke, especially in the plants on the balcony, with the result that the picture is well-defined spatially, but is even more striking for its richly atmospheric and lyrically descriptive qualities.