Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)
Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)
1 More
Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)
4 More
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Cox Collection: The Story of Impressionism

Jeune homme à sa fenêtre

Jeune homme à sa fenêtre
signed and dated 'G Caillebotte. 1876' (lower left)
oil on canvas
45 5/8 x 31 7/8 in. (116 x 81 cm.)
Painted in 1876
Albert Courtier, Meaux (gift from the artist, and by descent).
Galerie de l’Elysée (Jean Metthey), Paris (circa 1945).
Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 1951).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 26 June 1995.
A. de Lostalot, "L'Exposition de la rue Le Peletier" in La chronique des arts et de la curiosité, 1 April 1876, no. 14, p. 119.
"Le Salon de 1876" in Le petit journal, 1 April 1876, pp. 2-3.
"Nos informations: L’école de Batignolles" in La Liberté, 3 April 1876, p. 2.
S. Boubée, "Beaux-Arts: Exposition des impressionnistes chez Durand-Ruel" in Gazette de France, 5 April 1876.
M. Chaumelin, "Actualités: L'exposition des Impressionnistes" in La gazette des étrangers, 8 April 1876.
E. Blémont, "Les Impressionnistes" in Le Rappel, 9 April 1876, p. 3.
L. Esnault, "Mouvement artistique: L'exposition des intransigeants dans la galerie Durand-Ruel" in Le Constitutionel, 10 April 1876.
G. d'Olby, "Salon de 1876: Avant l'ouverture. Exposition des intransigeants chez M. Durand-Ruel, rue Le Peletier" in Le Pays, 10 April 1876.
G. Rivière, "Les intransigeants de la peinture" in L'esprit moderne, 13 April 1876.
P. Burty, "Fine Art: The Exhibition of the 'Intransigeants'" in The Academy, 15 April 1876.
E.F., "Le Groupe d’artistes de la rue Le Peletier" in Moniteur des arts, 21 April 1876, pp. 1-2.
E. Zola, "Lettres de Paris: Deux expositions d'art au mois de mai" in Le messager de l'Europe, June 1876.
R. Sertat, "Revue artistique: Le legs et l'exposition rétrospective" in Revue encyclopédique, 15 December 1894, p. 382 (illustrated).
M. Bérhaut, "Catalogue des peintures et pastels" in Gustave Caillebotte, exh. cat., Wildenstein et Cie., Paris, 1951, no. 6 (dated 1875).
F.W.J. Hemmings and R.J. Niess, Emile Zola, Salons, Paris, 1959, pp. 171-195.
M. Wykes-Joyce, "Maecenas at Work: Gustave Caillebotte" in Arts Review, 11 June 1966, vol. XVIII, no. 11, p. 269.
M. Bérhaut, Caillebotte: The Impressionist, Lausanne, 1968, p. 32 (series discussed).
L. Nochlin, Realism, Harmondsworth, 1971, pp. 169 and 275 (illustrated, p. 171, fig. 105; dated 1875).
A. Elsen, Purposes of Art: An Introduction to the History and Appreciation of Art, New York, 1972, p. 431 (illustrated, p. 432; dated circa 1875).
J. Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 1973, p. 373 (illustrated; dated 1875).
G. Picon, Emile Zola: Le bon combat: de Courbet aux Impressionnistes, Paris, 1974, pp. 185 and 240, note 55 (dated 1875).
K. Varnedoe, "Gustave Caillebotte in Context" in Arts Magazine, May 1976, vol. 50, no. 9, pp. 94-95 (illustrated, p. 94, fig. 1; dated 1875).
M. Bérhaut, Caillebotte: Sa vie et son oeuvre, catalogue raisonné des peintures et pastels, Paris, 1978, pp. 30, 47, 84, 249 and 253, no. 26 (illustrated, p. 84; dated 1875).
S. Monneret, L'Impressionnisme et son époque, Paris, 1978, vol. 1, p. 101 and 1980, vol. 3, p. 148.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1979, vol. III, p. 67 (illustrated) and p. 276, letter 1233bis.
H. James, The Ambassadors, New York, 1987 (illustrated in color on the cover).
K. Varnedoe, Gustave Caillebotte, New Haven, 1987, pp. 1-4, 13 and 60-62, no. 10 (illustrated in color, p. 61, pl. 10; detail illustrated in color, p. 62; illustrated again, p. 13, fig. 4).
H. Beck, "Die Ikonographie der Stadt: das Zögern vor der Stadt-Thematik" in Bilder aus der Neuen Welt, Munich, 1988, pp. 116-117 (illustrated, p. 117, fig. 5; dated 1875).
R.L. Herbert, Impressionism: Art, Leisure and Parisian Society, New Haven, 1988, pp. 19-20, 33 and 48 (illustrated in color, p. 19, pl. 23; detail illustrated in color, p. 21, pl. 25).
N. Broude, ed., World Impressionism: The International Movement, 1860-1920, New York, 1990, p. 19 (illustrated, fig. 13).
R. Bersson, Worlds of Art, Toronto, 1991, pp. 221-222 (illustrated in color, p. 222, fig. 7.19).
M. Howard, ed. The Impressionists by Themselves: A Selection of their Paintings, Drawings and Sketches with Extracts from their Writings, London, 1991, p. 14 (illustrated).
C.F. Stuckey, French Painting, New York, 1991, pp. 152-154 (illustrated, p. 153).
J. Welton, Eyewitness Art: Impressionism, London, 1993, pp. 6 and 61 (illustrated in color, p. 6).
M. Bérhaut and S. Pietri, Gustave Caillebotte: Catalogue raisonné des peintures et pastels, Paris, 1994, pp. 4, 18, 20, 35 and 73, no. 32 (illustrated in color on the cover and p. 72; dated 1875).
J. Coignard, "Caillebotte: Le blues des grands boulevards" in Beaux Arts Magazine, September 1994, no. 126, p. 61 and 64 (illustrated, p. 62).
E. Darragan, Caillebotte, Paris, 1994, pp. 35-38 (illustrated, p. 37).
R. Berson, The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886: Documentation,Exhibited Works, San Francisco, 1996, vol. I, pp. 83-84, 90, 101 and 108 and vol. II, p. 33 (illustrated, p. 47).
M. Shapiro, Impressionism: Reflections and Perceptions, New York, 1997 (detail illustrated in color on the cover).
M. Fried, "Caillebotte's Impressionism" in Representations, Spring 1999, no. 66, p. 2 (illustrated, p. 3, fig. 1; dated 1875).
N. Broude, ed., Gustave Caillebotte and the Fashioning of Identity in Impressionist Paris, New Brunswick, 2002 (illustrated in color, pl. 5).
F. Friedrich and S. Wuhrmann, Caillebotte: Au coeur de l'impressionnisme, exh. cat., Fondation de l'Hermitage, Lausanne, 2005, p. 17 (illustrated, fig. 2; dated 1875).
P. Todd, The Impressionists at Home, London, 2005, p. 14 (illustrated in color, p. 15; dated 1875).
A.-B. Fonsmark, D. Hansen and G. Hedin, Gustave Caillebotte, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bremen, 2008, p. 11 (illustrated in color, p. 10, fig. 1; dated 1875).
J. McLean, ed., Impressionist Interiors, exh. cat., National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 2008, pp. 20-21 (illustrated in color, p. 21, fig. 5; dated 1875).
J.H. Rubin, Impressionism and the Modern Landscape: Productivity, Technology and Urbanization from Manet to Van Gogh, Berkeley, 2008, pp. 34-36 (illustrated, fig. 20; dated 1875).
K. Sagner, Gustave Caillebotte: Neue Perspektiven des Impressionismus, Munich, 2009, p. 34 (illustrated in color, p. 35; detail illustrated in color on the cover; dated 1875).
D. Coutagne, Cézanne et Paris, exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2011, p. 17.
S. Lemoine, Dans l'intimité des frères Caillebotte: Peinture et photographie, exh. cat., Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, 2011, pp. 25-26, 37, 104 and 106 (dated 1875).
D. McCullough, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, New York, 2014 (illustrated on the frontispiece; detail illustrated in color on the spine).
M. Marrinan, Gustave Caillebotte: Painting Paris of Naturalism, 1872-1887, Los Angeles, 2016, p. 76 (illustrated in color, p. 77, fig. 38).
M. Morton and G.T.M. Shackelford, Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter's Eye, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2016, p. 111 (illustrated in color, fig. 1; detail illustrated in color, p. 61, fig. 2; dated 1875).
D. Marchesseau, Caillebotte: Impressionniste et moderne, exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Martigny, 2021, p. 41 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., 2e Exposition Impressionniste, April 1876, p. 6, no. 20.
New York, American Art Galleries and National Academy of Design, Works in Oil and Pastel by the Impressionists of Paris, May-June 1886, p. 37, no. 230 (titled Before the Window).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Rétrospective Gustave Caillebotte, June 1894, p. 7, no. 97 (dated 1875).
Paris, Wildenstein et Cie., Gustave Caillebotte, 1951, no. 4 (titled Homme de dos).
London, Wildenstein & Co., Ltd., Gustave Caillebotte: A Loan Exhibition in Aid of the Hertford British Hospital in Paris, June-July 1966, no. 2 (illustrated in color on the frontispiece; dated 1875).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Cent ans d'Impressionnisme: Hommage à Paul Durand-Ruel, January-March 1974, no. 6 (illustrated; dated 1875).
Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts and New York, The Brooklyn Museum, Gustave Caillebotte: A Retrospective Exhibition, October 1976-April 1977, pp. 88-90, no. 11 (illustrated, p. 88; dated 1875).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, The New Painting: Impressionism, 1874-1886, January-July 1986, p. 161, no. 20 and p. 169, no. 21 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais and The Art Institute of Chicago, Gustave Caillebotte, September 1994-May 1995, pp. 185-186, no. 59 (illustrated in color, p. 187; dated 1875).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist, June-September 1995, pp. 148-151, no. 59 (illustrated in color, p. 149; dated 1875).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Further details
The Comité Caillebotte has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Brought to you by

Adrien Meyer
Adrien Meyer Global Head, Private Sales, Co-Chairman, Impressionist & Modern Art

Lot Essay

When the Second Impressionist Exhibition opened its doors to the public in April 1876, critics and visitors alike were drawn to the striking compositions of a young painter, then making his debut with the revolutionary group of artists. In the Grand Salon of the Galeries Durand-Ruel, amidst the sun filled landscapes of Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, hung eight compositions by the newcomer Gustave Caillebotte. While Monet’s Japonnerie and Edgar Degas’s Portrait dans un bureau (Nouvelle Orléans) were heralded in the press as key works in the exhibition, many commentators remarked upon Caillebotte’s participation, with several singling him out as a mature painter of great promise and a bold new voice within the movement. As Marius Chaumelin asked: “Who knows Caillebotte? Where does he come from? In what school was he trained? No one has been able to tell me. All I know is that Caillebotte is one of the most original painters to have come forward in some time, and I am not afraid I shall compromise myself by predicting that he will be famous before long” (quoted in C.S. Moffett, ed., exh. cat., op. cit., 1986, p. 167).
Among the group of compositions Caillebotte chose to exhibit that year stood one of the most iconic paintings of his entire oeuvre, the imposing Jeune homme à sa fenêtre, which the artist had completed shortly before the opening of the exhibition. Presenting a novel view of Parisian bourgeois life in which a young man is captured in a moment of quiet, leisurely contemplation as he watches the street life from the comfort of an elegant apartment, this work showcased the influence of Caillebotte’s academic training alongside his growing interest in the audacious new trends and visual language of Impressionism. The painting, which would later feature in the first large scale exhibition of Impressionist works ever staged in America in 1886, boldly proclaimed the artist’s ambitions, and earned him a reputation within the Parisian art scene as an insightful chronicler of contemporary life. Jeune homme à sa fenêtre quickly became known as an emblematic work, not only of the artist’s style, but also the inherent modernity of his particular brand of Impressionism. In a letter to Renoir written shortly after Caillebotte’s untimely death in 1894, Monet described the painting in detail, singling it out as a prime candidate to be added to the great collection of Impressionist works Caillebotte had bequeathed to the French nation in his will. While Renoir’s choice had been Les Raboteurs de Parquet (Berhaut, 1994, no. 34; Musée d’Orsay, Paris), which had also been shown at the 1876 exhibition, for Monet Jeune homme à sa fenêtre represented a less conventional choice for the donation. However, the painting was no longer in the Caillebotte family’s possession—the artist had gifted the work to his close friend and notary, Albert Courtier, who would own several important paintings by the artist during his lifetime. Indeed, it would appear that some compositions were created directly by Caillebotte for Courtier, including Fruits à l’Étalage (Berhaut, 1994, no. 193; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) which was intended for his family dining room. Courtier would prove pivotal during the protracted negotiations regarding the artist’s bequest to the state, advising Renoir and Martial Caillebotte, executors of Caillebotte’s will, throughout the process.
La vie moderne
According to a handwritten note in an album of photographs of Caillebotte's paintings, assembled by Martial Caillebotte, Jeune homme à sa fenêtre depicts the artist’s middle brother René gazing out of the window of the family’s residence on the second floor of a building on the corner of rue de Miromesnil and rue de Lisbonne in Paris’s 8th arrondissement. Little is known of the mysterious René, the second-to-youngest member of the Caillebotte household, who was to die the same year as the present work was created. From various references in the family records, including the state of his affairs at the time of his passing, it would appear that he was a somewhat restless spirit who never took a profession, while the rack of debts he accrued in the months leading up to his death suggest a stylish, somewhat hedonistic lifestyle. Here, René is shown contre-jour, his expression unreadable as he stands with his back to the viewer, hands in his pockets, gazing out towards the city. Setting up a sharp contrast between the bright, sun-lit streetscape and the cool, soft, enveloping shadows of the interior, Caillebotte almost reduces his central protagonist to a silhouette against the luminous scene before him.
Though the plush red chair, positioned just behind René and directly in front of the open window, suggests that the young man has been enjoying a leisurely afternoon of people watching, observing the comings and goings of the street from above, there is a certain tension to his stance, as if the artist has captured him in a rare moment of animation in an otherwise sedentary, idle afternoon. The explanation for this sudden surge in energy may lie in the diminutive form of an elegant young woman seen preparing to cross the street below, who appears to have caught René’s eye. In comparison, she remains oblivious to the fact that she is being watched from the Caillebotte residence, her attention focused on safely traversing the intersection of the boulevard Malesherbes. The streets around her remain resolutely quiet, with only a handful of carriages and other pedestrians making their way through this part of the neighborhood.
Though such residential quarters attracted fewer passers-by than the grander boulevards in the center of the city, the quiet atmosphere suggests Caillebotte has chosen to capture the scene on a Sunday, or a public holiday. Sunlight streams from the west, illuminating the facades of the surrounding buildings, picking out the creamy golden hue of the stone, and drawing the eye to such details as the delicate iron work of wrap-around balconies and bright, white awnings that offered notes of individuality amongst the otherwise uniform streetscape. The light bounces off the glass balcony door to René’s right, generating a series of reflections that include his stocky form, the frame of the window and the stone balustrade, before melting into the soft white lace curtains that hang on the inside of the glazing. Blurring the boundaries between these two spaces—interior and exterior, private domestic sphere and public street—Caillebotte presents René as the epitome of the modern bourgeoise urban male, poised on the threshold between two worlds.
“The chief part of modern existence is passed indoors…”
Jeune homme à sa fenêtre is one of a trio of intimate family portraits Caillebotte created over the course of 1875-1876, in which the artist offers an intensely personal view on to the everyday rituals and routines that marked the Caillebotte household. Each located within the elegant, haute-bourgeois environment in which the artist lived with his mother and two younger brothers, these compositions focus on the mundane, everyday elements that marked his existence during these years, the familiar sights and scenes that took place within the quiet confines of the family home. In Le Déjeuner of 1876 (Berhaut, 1994, no. 37; Private collection), the artist portrays his mother and René as they sit down to a mid-day meal, their butler hovering by Madame Caillebotte as he prepares to serve her from the platter he holds. Captured from the perspective of the artist as he sits at the end of the table, his empty plate appearing like a pale half-moon at the lower edge of the canvas, Caillebotte places himself as both a part of this world and a detached observer, watching and absorbing the scene around him in all its quiet ordinariness. From his vantage point, he sees René forging ahead, head bent and intently focused on carving something on his plate, oblivious to the social decorum of waiting for the rest of the table to be served before beginning his own meal.
In Jeune homme au piano (Berhaut, 1994, no. 36; Artizon Museum, Tokyo), the second of this trio, the artist’s youngest brother Martial is seen practicing at the family’s Érard piano, a series of heavy tomes stacked haphazardly on top of the instrument. Martial was a talented musician who had been admitted to the Institut National de Musique, Conservatoire de Paris in 1873, where he studied under François Marmontel, and later composed several musical pieces of his own. Here, he appears to be intently studying the sheet of music before him, familiarizing himself with the piece while his hands hover ever so slightly above the keys. Rather than showing a confident, well-honed final performance, Caillebotte instead appears to capture his brother in the midst of his daily rehearsal, revealing the hours of training, practice and repetition that lay behind his skill. Soft diffused sunlight filtered through gauzy curtains illuminates the ivory keys of the piano and introduces a play of reflections in the fallboard, while the ornate, warm-hued carpets, elaborate wall-paper, and luxurious drapery of the room convey an impression of the quiet, enveloping atmosphere of a space designed for musical performances. As in Le Déjeuner, Caillebotte introduces a bold, unexpected viewpoint in Jeune homme au piano, adopting a slightly elevated position as if standing on a small stepladder above his sitter, which creates an unusual recession of space within the scene, squeezing the piano into the far corner of the room.
Drawing together different stylistic elements and thematic strands from both of these compositions, Jeune homme à sa fenêtre appears to mark the culmination of Caillebotte’s experiments with interior views at this time. However, the painting stands apart in one key aspect—while both Le Déjeuner and Jeune homme au piano feature windows, the view onto the street remains resolutely obscured by diaphanous lace curtains, which allow sunlight to illuminate the space, but ultimately block out the street beyond. While other members of the Impressionist group had used the window motif as an opportunity to study the play of light as it penetrated an interior space in a similar manner, Caillebotte proposes a more complex scene in Jeune homme à sa fenêtre. Here, the eye is drawn out through the open window, into the heart of the city itself, while the figure stands at the very edge of the domestic interior, setting up a direct confrontation between the public world of the street and the private space of the home. As such, this work can be seen as the first exploration of a bold new theme within Caillebotte’s oeuvre—the new vistas and architectural landscapes of Paris at the end of the nineteenth century.
Visions of a New Paris
Offering a clear view of the thoroughfare below, the open window in Jeune homme à sa fenêtre reveals the privileged residential area in which the artist and his family lived at this time, which had undergone radical modernization during the mid-nineteenth century. The urban landscape of Paris had been utterly transformed in the 1860s from a medieval city of winding streets and historic buildings, to a paragon of modernity and elegance as part of the ambitious reforms of Napoleon III. Led by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the rebuilding project saw vast sections of the congested city demolished to provide space for expansive new thoroughfares, grand public buildings, apartment blocks of a uniform size and architectural style, new sewer and water systems, and a series of public gardens and green spaces for the city’s population to enjoy. Referred to as the “Haussmannisation” of Paris, the campaign completely altered the experience and feel of the French capital, and was met with equal parts admiration and scorn by contemporaries, not least because of the vast expense of the project and its elimination of the historic character of the city.
However, for Baron Haussmann, the benefits of his endeavor were clear for all to see: “The transformation of Paris made it a capital worthy of France… but even more, and above all else, it obtained for its inhabitants an abundance of air, light, and water—crucial elements of public health. It amply provided them with the means of communication that had been lacking among the various parts of the city. It satisfied their artistic interests by providing beautiful lines of sight; by relieving the congestion around older monuments and by isolating new ones; by opening tree-lined avenues, spacious promenades, parks and public gardens, thereby filling their eyes with an unrivalled luxury of greenery and flowers” (Haussmann, quoted in M. Marrinan, Gustave Caillebotte: Painting the Paris of Naturalism, 1872-1887, Los Angeles, 2016, p. 37). In particular, a defining element of Haussmann’s Paris were the wide boulevards which now cut through the city in a clear network of lines. Usually tree-lined, and boasting generous pedestrian sidewalks suitable for promenading, these thoroughfares would come to dominate Caillebotte’s art in the mid to late 1870s, resulting in his famous odes to the Parisian street, Rue de Paris, temps de pluie (Berhaut, 1994, no. 57; The Art Institute of Chicago), and Le Pont d’Europe (Berhaut, 1994, no. 49; Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva).
Under Haussmann’s project, elegant new neighborhoods sprung up around the center of Paris, and were quickly populated by the city’s well-heeled bourgeoisie. It was under these circumstances that the Caillebotte family house was constructed in 1868 on the corner of rue de Miromesnil and rue de Lisbonne. Boasting a range of entertaining and family spaces on the first floor, along with six family bedrooms, as well as quarters for staff above, the house was a typical Haussmann-era domestic dwelling, replete with the most modern conveniences of hot water, gas lighting and an electric bell system. In Jeune homme à sa fenêtre, Caillebotte celebrates the new patterns of the built environment that were emerging at this time, focusing on the beauty of his own neighborhood by choosing a view from the house in which several streets converge in a series of interlocking, oblique angles.
Breaking the vista down into individual pockets of space, Caillebotte captures a sense of the city’s physical materiality and the complexity of Haussmann’s planning, drawing our eye directly into the center of this dynamic cityscape. Key to this effect is the viewpoint offered by the balcony—as Laurence Madeline has remarked, the balcony was an important feature of these bourgeoning neighborhoods, offering a novel means of perceiving and experiencing the city: “The balcony reveals the metamorphosis of everyday life in the apartment buildings of the Haussmannian street. Life was no longer centered around the courtyards, which were shrinking, but on the street or the boulevard. In search of air and light, the architects created balconies where the Parisian had ‘the pleasure of seeing passers-by and being seen by them.’ The balcony therefore became a pictorial motif for painters of modern life, [...] the privileged observatory of Haussmanian Paris” (L’ABCdaire Caillebotte, Paris, 1994, p. 36).
“From within, we communicate with the outside through a window.”
In many ways, Caillebotte’s use of the balcony in Jeune homme à sa fenêtre as a point from which to observe the city presents a modern update on a traditional artistic theme. From the delicate interiors of Johannes Vermeer and Gabriel Metsu, to the enigmatic compositions of German Romantics such as Caspar David Friedrich, the figure gazing out the window was a subject with a long lineage in the history of art, often used to indicate feelings of idleness or longing in a central protagonist, typically while waiting for something to happen. In these paintings, the landscape most often remains out of view, imbuing the scene with a certain mystery, as we are left to wonder what the characters are seeing. A more recent precedent for Caillebotte may have been Édouard Manet’s Le Balcon, which the artist would later acquire for his personal collection in 1884. Supposedly inspired by an image of people on a balcony at the fashionable seaside resort Boulogne-sur-Mer, Manet’s composition features four figures, for which the artist used his friends as his models, most notably Berthe Morisot. While sharing certain thematic elements with Jeune homme à sa fenêtre, Manet adopts a radically alternative viewpoint in Le Balcon, regarding the scene from the outside, keeping his attention on the balcony and only providing the briefest glimpse into the bourgeois interior beyond.
While Caillebotte would revisit the figure at the balcony several times over the course of his career in a variety of different configurations, from Un balcon, Boulevard Haussmann (Berhaut, 1994, no. 146; Private collection) to Homme au balcon, Boulevard Haussmann (Berhaut, 1994, no. 149; Private collection), few examples match the psychological complexity proposed in Jeune homme à sa fenêtre. Indeed, in most of these later paintings, the figure looking out the window or over the edge of a balcony appears struck by a general boredom, as if they are simply passing time by people watching from such a privileged position. In contrast, Jeune homme à sa fenêtre is infused with an underlying tension, in which René’s idleness seems to be counterbalanced by a certain agitation. This is particularly evident when compared to contemporary paintings such as Berthe Morisot’s Portrait de Mme Pontillon (Jeune femme à sa fenêtre) of 1869, where a feeling of passive, idle boredom seems to envelop the young bourgeois woman as she sits before an open window overlooking an expansive balcony. Studiously examining her fan, she ignores the view beyond, unlike the seemingly restless René, who confronts the city head on as he gazes longingly out onto the action of the street below. As such, Caillebotte’s painting seems to capture a sense of his younger brother’s desire to escape the confines of the family home and instead venture out into the city, in search of excitement and adventure.
The theme of the male figure at the balcony or open window, observing the world beyond from an elevated vantage point, would continue to occupy a number of artists throughout the twentieth century. From the melancholic view of a bored office worker gazing idly over the city in Edward Hopper’s Office in a Small City (1953; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) to Lucien Freud’s psychologically charged interior scenes, the subject offered a rich opportunity for artists to explore this aspect of the male experience within the modern metropolis. However, it is perhaps David Hockney’s poignant Sur la Terrasse (1971; Private collection), begun in March 1971 and completed that summer, which presents a similar psychological depth and sense of atmosphere to that found in Jeune homme à sa fenêtre. Here, the artist’s first love and greatest muse, Peter Schlesinger, stands on the balcony of the couple’s room at the Hôtel de la Mamounia in Marrakesh, gazing into the lush gardens in full bloom. Throughout their relationship, Hockney had frequently depicted Schlesinger from the back, drawing on many of the same artistic precedents as Caillebotte, while the artist’s own position beyond the picture frame casts him in a similar voyeuristic position as that of the painter in Jeune homme à sa fenêtre. In Sur la Terrasse, while it is the verdant garden rather than the modern city which draws the standing figure in, seemingly enticing him to new pastures beyond the balcony, the scene is infused with a similar air of suspense to Caillebotte’s masterwork, as we await the male figure's next move.
Caillebotte and La nouvelle peinture
Caillebotte’s scenes of contemporary life exhibited at the Second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876, including Jeune homme à sa fenêtre, would prove pivotal in shaping the public reception of Impressionism during its early years, most notably for their importance to the writings of Edmond Duranty. Duranty was among the first critics to salute the Impressionist movement—his seminal essay, La nouvelle peinture: A propos du groupe d’artistes qui expose dans les Galeries Durand-Ruel, a thirty-eight page pamphlet written in response to the 1876 exhibition, was the first substantial publication written on the subject of impressionism. In its pages, Duranty celebrated the style, technique and novel subjects of these revolutionary painters, and in particular the unique brand of naturalism found in the work of Caillebotte and Degas, which he believed removed “the partition separating the studio from everyday life … It was necessary to make the painter leave his sky-lighted cell, his cloister where he was in contact with the sky alone, and to bring him out among men, into the world” (La nouvelle peinture, reproduced in L. Nochlin, ed., Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, 1874-1904: Sources and Documents, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1966, p. 5).
Reading through the essay, there are clear indications that Duranty was formulating his theories with Caillebotte’s paintings in mind. At home, Duranty writes, “the individual will be at a piano… He will be having lunch with his family or sitting in his armchair near his worktable, absorbed in thought… When at rest, he will not be merely pausing or striking a meaningless pose before the photographer’s lens. This moment will be a part of his life as are his actions” (quoted in Impressionist Interiors, exh. cat., The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 2008, p. 33). Similarly, his discussion of the importance of shifting viewpoints, appears to correspond directly to Caillebotte’s research in this area: “Views of people and things have a thousand ways of being unexpected in reality. Our point of view is not always in the center of a room with two lateral walls receding towards that of the rear; it does not always gather together along these lines and angles of cornices with a mathematical regularity and symmetry… [One’s viewpoint] is sometimes very high, sometimes very low, missing the ceiling, getting at objects from their undersides, unexpectedly cutting off the furniture…” (in L. Nochlin, ed., op. cit., 1966, p. 6).
Perhaps though, the clearest link between Duranty’s essay and the present work can be seen in the author’s proclamation that “A back should reveal temperament, age and social position…” (quoted in The New Painting…, exh. cat., op. cit., 1986, p. 148). On the one hand, Jeune homme à sa fenêtre contains a whole litany of signifiers within the richly detailed room—the sumptuous upholstery of the chair, the highly decorative pattern of the wallpaper, the soft carpeted floor—to suggest the protagonist’s social and financial position. However, there is an essential austerity to the scene, in which no books, mementoes or bibelots can be glimpsed around the room, their presence acting as helpful indicators of René’s character or interests. Rather, it is purely through stance, pose and the careful, succinct observation of body language that Caillebotte conveys a sense of the restless energy and longing that seemed to consume his younger brother at this time, as he gazed out on to the bustling streets of Paris.

More from The Cox Collection: The Story of Impressionism, Evening Sale

View All
View All