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11 / The Urban Experience

Paris Street; Rainy Day
Paris Street; Rainy Day
Artist / Origin Gustave Caillebotte (French, 1848–1894)
Region: Europe
Date 1877
Material Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 83 ½ in. (212.2 cm.), W: 108 ¾ in. (276.2 cm.)
Location Charles H. and Mary F.S. Worcester Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Credit Courtesy of Art Resource/Photo by Erich Lessing

expert perspective

Kimberly A. JonesAssociate Curator of French Paintings, National Gallery of Art

Additional Resources

The Art Institute of Chicago Web site. http://www.artic.edu/aic.

Broude, Norma, ed. Gustave Caillebotte and the Fashioning of Identity in Impressionist Paris. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Callen, Anthea. The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique and the Making of Modernity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Clark, T.J. The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Distel, Anne, et al. Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist. New York: Abbeville Press, 1995.

Herbert, Robert L. Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Paris Street; Rainy Day

» Gustave Caillebotte (French, 1848–1894)

With its gaslights, carriages, and cobblestone streets, Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day may seem to some twenty-first-century viewers like a quaint evocation of old world Paris.

However, when it was painted in 1877, it constituted a bold look at a swiftly modernizing city. The fashionably dressed Parisian couple in the foreground of the painting strolls down a street near the Saint-Lazare train station. In preceding decades, the railroad’s expansion had prompted a radical transformation of the neighborhood, as had urban initiatives led by city administrator Baron Haussmann in the 1850s and ’60s. The broad boulevard and grand, uniform buildings that set the scene for Caillebotte’s figures are evidence of the so-called “Haussmannization” of Paris.

Caillebotte brings vitality to his city scene through the careful manipulation of angles, cropping of figures, and placement of objects. The viewer’s vantage point is from the sidewalk, facing the couple at right. Parallel to the picture plane and cut off at the knees, the pair appears close to the viewer and moving closer. One can easily imagine that in moments, they will step straight through the picture plane and continue on their way. The viewer’s eye, however, does not stop with these figures. Rather, it bounces around the canvas, following the asymmetric rhythm of the umbrellas Caillebotte has scattered throughout the scene.

The geometric order, monumental figures, and dramatic perspective employed by Caillebotte seem to offer a vision quite different from the images most often associated with Impressionism—Monet’s light-dappled haystacks, indistinct landscapes, and nearly abstract lily ponds. What links Caillebotte to the Impressionist artists with whom he exhibited—Monet, Renoir, Degas, Morisot, and others—is not his style so much as his desire to capture momentary experience and fleeting vision in works that explore themes of class, identity, urbanity, and modernity.

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