Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) is one of the most important figures of French Impressionism. He was not only a very passionate painter who created about 500 paintings, but also supported his contemporary fellow artists as a collector, patron, and initiator by funding and organising exhibitions. Nevertheless, he remains one of the less publicised Impressionist painters. Gustave Caillebotte was born on 19 August 1848 as the eldest of three sons of the twicewidowed cloth merchant, trade judge, and real-estate dealer Martial Caillebotte and his third wife Céleste Daufresne in Paris, where he grew up in an upper-middle-class environment.
The exalted lifestyle of his family is reflected in many of his paintings, in which the life of a bourgeois neighbourhood of Paris and the numerous trips to the family’s estate in Yerres are mapped. After his graduation at the public school Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Vanves Caillebotte first began studying law. After the outbreak of the Franco- Prussian War (1870-1871), he was drafted into the Garde nationale mobile de la Seine. But in order to prepare for his graduation he was temporarily exempted pursuant to a compensation payment by his family, and he was able to finish his studies in jurisprudence successfully with the license en droit in July 1870. In 1872 he went with his father on a journey to Italy, during which he visited the painter Giuseppe de Nittis in Naples. Shortly thereafter, the earliest known paintings by Caillebotte, such as A Road near Naples, emerged.
In the same year he took lessons from the French painter Léon Bonnat, to prepare for the entrance examination of the École des Beaux- Arts. In 1873, Caillebotte – at this time twentyfive years old – was accepted by the École des Beaux-Arts, and enrolled in various painting courses, but he only visited a drawing class taught by Adolphe Yvon. On 25 December 1874 the artist’s father died and left the family, in addition to a large sum of money, several tenements, estates, bonds, and fixed-income securities. Caillebotte‘s mother kept the family country seat with the large-scale, today publicly-accessible park in Yerres. The picturesque surroundings in Yerres, especially the banks of the river, inspired Caillebotte‘s paintings.
When his younger brother René Caillebotte died at the age of twenty-five, two years after the death of his father, the artist wrote his first will. Two years later Caillebotte’s mother died, whereupon the brothers sold the family estate in Yerres. In 1881, Caillebotte purchased a country house in Petit Gennevilliers. Besides art Caillebotte had another great passion that he shared with his youngest brother, Martial Caillebotte: both were supporting members of the Parisian sailing club Cercle de la Voile de Paris. Caillebotte won numerous regattas and formulated, after he became vice president of the club after four years of membership in 1880, the first binding international regulations for sailing betting. His passion for water sports, especially his passion for sailing, which can be found as motifs in many of his paintings, was so strong that he even started boatbuilding and in 1885 founded his own company under the name Chantiers Luce.
A total of twenty-one yachts were built based on Caillebotte‘s drawings, and his yard was at that time the most modern shipyard in Europe. In 1887, after his youngest brother Martial had married, Caillebotte moved out of the jointly inhabited apartment and retired to his country estate at Petit Gennevilliers, the surroundings of which he then depicted in his paintings. While he was working on a landscape painting in his garden in Gennevilliers, the artist suffered a stroke. Caillebotte died at the age of forty-five on 21 February 1894. Through the heritage of his father, who died young, the artist was one of the main sponsors of the French Impressionists.
In 1874, Caillebotte helped his fellow students, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, to organise the first exhibition of the Impressionist group held in Paris, which took place in the same year. In 1876 and the subsequent years (1877, 1879, 1880, and 1892) he funded and organised the group exhibitions. The artist bought many of his friends’ works – often at higher prices than they were offered to him – and put together a large Impressionist collection. When Monet fell into a financial emergency in the years around 1880, Caillebotte rented a studio for his friend, bought him canvasses, bought some of his works, and supported him financially. Apart from his activities as a patron and collector, Caillebotte was close friends with most French Impressionist painters, as numerous letters prove. Besides Monet, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were dear friends…
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