This is the first day for public viewing of Gustave Caillebotte: Impressionist Paintings from Paris to the Sea at the Brooklyn Museum. Last night at a members-reception I had the opportunity to view the show, to much delight. I do have to say I agree in part with a New York Times review from this morning, however. Reviewer Holland Cotter wrote that Caillebotte’s paintings “have more to do with academic realism than with the scintillations of Monet.” I wouldn’t go as far as to say Caillebiotte wasn’t an impressionist, or that he didn’t succeed as an impressionist, however. I do think he may have been a realist that got lost in the fashion of impressionism. If you’re going to get lost, that’s not a bad place to do it, yet I still felt his heart may have been in the earlier, more realistic works. Sometimes as artists we find ourselves through association with our peers and the art world around us, and once in a while we lose ourselves by paying too much attention to it. I’m not an expert on Caillebotte, in fact I had only heard of him a couple times in passing before last night, but I got the sense that he might have been one who so much wanted acceptance from his impressionist contemporaries that he became one of them, yet none of them, and maybe losing some of himself in the process.
Perhaps my favorite work in the show is of a dining room set with glassware. I first noticed the plate in the foreground wasn’t quite sitting on the table, and then a knife which didn’t seem to be sitting anywhere. Then it dawned on me the painting was from the viewpoint of a server carrying the plate. The figures are all inside themselves, everything is exquisite, but no one seems to be enjoying the company of another. Perhaps this is where Caillebotte looks outward, beyond this life, to seek to be among a community of artists.
On to impressionism, his yachting scenes reminded me a little of Eakins and his paintings on the Schuylkill River.
I also want to say that Caillebotte is the perfect example of needing to see paintings in person rather than in books or on the internet. I was not that interested in the show before last night, but the reception brought me in, and I will likely return several more times.