Sunday, May 03, 2009

Gustave Caillebotte at the Brooklyn Museum

On Target First Saturdays, admission to the Brooklyn Museum is free. JS suggested seeing the Caillebottee exhibition "Impressionist Paintings from Paris to the Sea." He was there with two friends, R and Y, when I finally arrived after an epic journey on the 2-turned-local train. 

Though "The Floor Scrapers" (1876) is a lesser painting compared to the one on the same theme in the Musee D'Orsay, it is still very pleasingly virtuosic and humanly sensitive. While the master works to finish a newly laid hardwood floor by shaving the buckling boards in place, his apprenticeship is, appropriately, sharpening his blade. Since the room is likely to be Caillebotte's studio, the painting becomes a depiction too of the relationship between tradition and the individual talent. 

The best group of paintings are scenes on water. "Oarsman in a Top Hat" (1877-78) directs the eye along a wonderful recession into the painting, while "Oarsmen Rowing on the Yerres"(1877)  almost thrusts the front oarsman out of the picture frame into the viewer's arms. Both paintings exhibit not only Caillebotte's interest in unusual points of view and dramatic croppings, but also his fascination with doubles. In the first painting, another boat glides in the background, rowed by two men whose greater experience than the top-hatted city gent is belied by their practical straw hats and thin white shirts. In the latter drawing, the front oarsman finds a visual back-up in the rower behind him. 

The same device, that of doubles, is used in my favorite painting of the exhibition. In "Bather Preparing to Dive, Banks of the Yerres" (1877) the titled Bather is about to leap out of the picture, on the left side of the frame. Another bather, not mentioned in the title, is climbing out of the water onto the bank on the right side of the painting. Though both bathers may be thought to form a kind of cycle--entering and exiting the river--the fact they they face away from each other gives the cycle an interesting tension. What the cycle encircles is the water of the Yerres, a shimmery greeny-blue under tree shade. 

Another painting that I like very much is "Roses in the Garden at Petit Gennevilliers" (1886). Caillebotte was also an enthusiastic gardener on top of being an acclaimed sailor. Unusual for him, the painting makes use of a curved path, instead of strict rectilinear forms, to create the illusion of depth. The curve is almost a ribbon round the rosebushes presented like a giant bouquet to the woman in the painting, his companion Charlotte Berthier. 

Add: JS pointed me to this video on Caillebotte, a PBS Sunday Arts program, in which the exhibition curator talks about her artist. You can see the paintings there that I describe in this post. 

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