French Impressionist painter and art collector Gustave Caillebotte was best known for his realistic paintings of urban Paris. His portrayal of the society and settings of his era gained him attention as they often presented lower-class subjects and demonstrated a plunging perspective.
Gustave Caillebotte was born August 19, 1848, in Paris, to Céleste Daufresne and Martial Caillebotte, an entrepreneur who accumulated his fortune in textiles and real estate. Gustave earned a law degree in 1868 and a license to practice two years later. Before he could get started in his career, he was drafted to fight in the Franco-Prussian war, and served in the Garde Nationale Mobile de la Seine. His earliest paintings depicted family members and friends, as in ‘Young Man at His Window’ (1875), Portraits in the Country (1875), and The Orange Trees (1878).
After the war, Gustave Caillebotte began visiting the studio of painter Léon Bonnat, where he further developed his passion for painting. In 1873, he entered into the École des Beaux-Arts; there he was introduced to Edgar Degas and Giuseppe de Nittis. That same year his father died and left him a great fortune. This sudden wealth afforded him the luxury to paint for leisure and support his talent rather than have his talent support him. Known for his generosity, he became a great patron of other impressionist artists by purchasing their art and funding exhibitions. While he was more than willing to help his peers, he also had a remarkable eye for quality, and thereby amassed a significant collection of art during his lifetime. He used his wealth to fund a variety of hobbies for which he was quite passionate, including stamp collecting, orchid horticulture, yacht building, and textile design.
In 1875, after being rejected by the Salon, he exhibited his works a year later at the second exhibition of the Impressionist group. ‘The Floor Scrapers’ gained some attention and before long, he became the co-organizer and co-financier of subsequent Impressionist exhibitions in which he took part. Works such as ‘Vue des toits, effet de neige’ (1878) and ‘Boulevard vu d'en haut’ (1880) displayed what would become the artist’s trademark for portraying scenes from a high vantage point. During his lifetime, he painted over five hundred works in a style often more realistic than that of his Impressionist friends.
In 1881, Gustave Caillebotte bought a house in Petit-Gennevilliers on the banks of the Seine where he created a number of his works. Several years later, he made it a permanent residence, setting down his paintbrush to pursue a passion for racing yachts. Having been trained as a naval architect, he drew up plans to build his own boats which he raced, and which won many international titles.
On February 21, 1894, at the age of forty-five, Gustave Caillebotte died suddenly of a stroke and bequeathed his entire art collection of Cézannes, Degas, Manets, Monets, Passers, Renoirs, and Sisleys to the France government with the stipulation that they hang in the Musee du Luxembourg first and then in the Louvre. With considerable reluctance, the government accepted part of the collection two years later. Today forty works from his collection hang in the Musee d'Orsay.