This pastel shows the white masonry wall that surrounds the large kitchen garden at the Caillebotte family's country home in Yerres, an old village about 20 kilometres southwest of Paris. Caillebotte was twelve years old when his parents purchased the estate in 1860. It became their summer residence. The extensive grounds were centred on a large neo-classical house built in the early 19th century, which still stands today. A contemporary description of the property mentions a "Park extending along the river in the English style, planted with large and beautiful trees both indigenous and exotic, shrubbery, walks, lawns, island formed by an arm in the river, iron bridges.... Beautiful kitchen garden, with numerous espaliers and broad lawn beyond...." (quoted in A. Distel et al., Gustave Caillbotte, Urban Impressionist, exh. cat., The Art Institute, Chicago, 1995, p. 56).
Caillebotte, as a youth, spent his summer vacations from boarding school at Yerres, and developed a life-long love of sailing and rowing on the nearby Yerres river. He took many of his subjects when he began to paint in 1872 from the estate grounds, the river and the surrounding countryside. He continued to draw on these motifs until 1879, when the residence was sold following the death of his parents. The kitchen garden wall features in six oil paintings and another pastel done in 1877 (Berhaut, nos. 75, 77-82). The present pastel shows the exterior side of the wall, separated by a gravel path from the surrounding woods. The oil painting Le mur du jardin potager, Yerres (B., no. 75 shows the wall receding in the opposite direction. The painting Le Jardinier (B., no. 79) shows the wall seen from the garden side, in similar perspective.
The artist's focus on the garden wall allowed him to use classic perspective as a primary compositional tool in this outdoor and largely natural setting. Caillebotte has emphasised the contrasts between hard-edged, linear man-made structures and the loosely dispersed clumps of flowers and shrubbery. He has clearly demonstrated his partiality for the role of human civilisation and design in the landscape, while showing less favour for the unkempt abundance of nature, which was then the more usual subject of the plein air painter. In 1877, Caillebotte painted his two great urban masterpieces, in which architecture and perspective completely dominate the compositions: Le pont de l'Europe (B., no. 49; Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva), and Rue de Paris, temps de pluie (B., no. 57; The Art Institute of Chicago). Like Degas, Caillebotte was deeply interested in manipulating the spatial structure within his compositions. Taking unusual subjects from everyday modern life, he relished using traditional perspectival techniques in unconventional ways, in order to realise novel and distinctive results.
This pastel has remained within the Caillebotte family since it was executed more than a century and a quarter ago. The artist made a gift of it to Marie Caillebotte, his first cousin, around 1894. She was the great-grandmother of the present owner, who has consigned the pastel to this catalogue, the first time it has ever been offered for sale.