Gustave Caillebotte exhibited his monumental, modern canvas Rue de Paris, temps de pluie (Berhaut, 1994, no. 57; fig. 1) at the 1877 Impressionist Exhibition. This painting would come to be recognized as one of the most important works of his relatively short artistic career. Examined in tandem, the present study of an haute-bourgeois gentleman and his well-heeled companion, and the related perspectival study of the Parisian street corner that represents the setting for their promenade (see Lot 114), provide an instructive account of Caillebotte's method and illuminate the social semantics of the Parisian street.
Peter Galassi categorized into five stages the preparatory drawings and oil sketches for Rue de Paris, temps de pluie and the related work Pont de l'Europe (1876, Petit Palais, Geneva, Berhaut no. 49). He placed the present study in the third group: "drawings and oil sketches of figures and details of architecture that will be placed in the space" (in exh. cat., op. cit., 1976-1977, p. 192). Caillebotte conceived of his setting and his characters somewhat independently, perfecting each before merging them in a single composition. A related oil sketch (Berhaut no. 55, fig. 2), falls under the same category. As Caillebotte transitioned from pencil to oil, however, the subtleties of the present work--especially the sensitive execution of the creases and folds of the couple's attire--are sacrificed in favor of the more painterly explorations of application and hue.
In the present work, the couple that would eventually dominate the lower right quadrant, of what Kirk Varnedoe called the final painting's "giant plus-sign" composition, is richly rendered in a full tonal range. The unidentified pair, decked out in Parisian finery, is enjoying that most modern of urban pleasures--famously undertaken by all from Baudelaire to Breton--the daily promenade. Their umbrella not only protects them from the elements, but also unites them as an impenetrable pair; the couple remains isolated from the other, similarly shielded denizens of the final composition. The Revolution of 1848 and recent decades of urban industrialization, both of which unfolded in the arena of the street, saw the social side-effects of emotional isolation and increased class consciousness. But the carefree couple pictured here seeks to assuage such concerns, for "along the streets of Haussmann's new city, pleasure was now ostensibly substituted for conflict and modernity for revolution" (A. Distel, exh. cat., op. cit, 1995, p. 89). In the final canvas, the well-to-do flâneurs are just as much cut-off from their fellow Parisians as they are alone in the present study. And yet, with fashionable top-hat, bow-tie and bustle, and eyes cocked leftward toward an urban diversion, they also represent "the street recovered for pleasure and commerce" (ibid., p. 92).
Caillebotte must have been acutely aware, on a personal level, of the street as a space shared by different classes. Born to a wealthy family with a rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis address, and residing from 1868 at a family-owned hôtel at 77 rue de Miromesnil, the artist was at leisure to pursue his interests--boating, horticulture and stamp collecting, in addition to painting--without the least financial worry. Yet his friends were not among the established Paris elite. They were the edgy Impressionists, whose ranks he joined not only through his paintings, but with his purse--he generously supported exhibitions and purchased works by Monet and Renoir during these colleagues' tighter times. Merging his own haute-bourgeois legacy with his new, avant-garde credentials, Caillebotte felt particularly comfortable along the wide boulevards where workers and gentlemen coexisted. Absent from this preparatory study, the artist inserted himself as the third figure in the foreground of the painting Rue de Paris, temps de pluie--sharing the same foreground as the couple beneath the umbrella, but facing the opposite direction.
Please see note to the following lot.
(fig. 1) Rue de Paris, temps de pluie, 1877, The Art Institute of Chicago.
(fig. 2) Homme et femme sous un parapluie, 1877, Private collection, France, Berhault no. 55.