Gustave Caillebotte was acknowledged as one of the most outstanding and unique artists whose works depict the nature of men, masculinity and manliness. The period of the nineteenth century, when the author lived and worked, did not know and did not possess such an approach which was frequently used by Caillebotte. Both the life and the artworks of the artists were represented a certain type of mystery: the investigators of the history of art and his creative works are still not able to answer all questions connected with this figure and his legacy left to the contemporary viewer (Garb 175). It is not easy to state whether Caillebotte exercised only landscape painting or portraying, since various trends of his art activity had taken place.
The technique and approaches Caillebotte used to use in his works was magnificent and out of the blue for the time he lived. For instance, the depiction of the nude male body and the message the artist sent were unsuitable for the era he lived: a naked man could seem heroic and even brutal in his works, while the surrounding setting showed the domestic situation as bathing. This fact provoked several risks for the author and a certain degree of misunderstanding from the audience. Along with this Caillebotte depicted the man’s body not as the perfect one (imagined that time) but in the manner of “unidealized body” (Garb 192). Hence, this paper is aimed at analyzing the key works by Gustave Caillebotte regarding their key details, techniques of performance and the meaning the author implemented into the masterpieces. In order to achieve this, we have chosen three paintings: one landscape, one portrait, and one depiction of a nude body.
Paintings by Gustave Caillebotte: Landscape Painting
The first artwork by Caillebotte which is going to be analyzed belongs to the landscape painting and bears the title The Fields, a Plain in Gennevilliers, Study in Yellow and Green, created in 1884 (Nga.gov). Regarding the physical characteristic of the painting under analysis, it is important to consider such factors as size, brush-stroke, colours, perspective and subject. Work represents the oil on canvas type of picture and depicts the field of plants of green and yellow colours. The background of the picture is visually vague which gives a viewer an opportunity to create his / her own ideas on what is depicted on the second plan of the painting. Paying attention to the fact that the field is frequently associated with the rural life and agriculture, it becomes possible to assume that the background of the work is a village with the countless houses. The picture leaves a dual feeling about the emotions depicted. On the one hand, they are positive, since the pure landscape is shown at the picture; however, on the other hand, the color of the sky, for instance, which changes from white to gray makes a viewer assume negative feelings caused by the bad weather.
The size of the picture is 54 × 65 cm (21 1/4 × 25 9/16 in.), what is characterized as the medium size (Nga.gov). The main object of the painting is the field which has been enriched with the numerous hues and colours, which change each other. Regardless this fact, the key colours which are caught at once are green, gray, yellow and white. The brush-strokes seem to be inaccurate what was proper to the art trends of the period in question. This creates an atmosphere of mystery, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, adds to the uncertainty of perception.
The key perspective of the work is the depicted infinite space which can certainly symbolize the freedom which can exist only in the rural setting and which is strictly limited in the urban life. The plants painted in the picture show the direction of wind, and the bad weather which is going to take place at the moment. The painting is very strong, and while looking at it, the feeling of liberty appears along with the smells which are proper to the image.
The key idea which had been put into the work consists in depicting the beauty and endlessness of the nature people inhabit as well as the unpredictability and versatility of the natural phenomena which are likely to occur. It seems difficult to find out which season has been shown in the picture. Obviously, this is summer or the beginning of the autumn. In addition to this, the emotions can vary while looking at the picture: firstly, they are positive and light; however, after a more precise and detailed regarding of the work, a feeling of worry appears. This is determined by the darkness of the sky and the hues of colours which had been applied at the background of the painting.
The composition of the painting is represented by the usage of two key elements: proportions are opposite, i.e. a vast and immensely large field is contrasted to the tine hardly noticed houses which are located far away, in the background. Furthermore, the absence of the accuracy in lines shows the blurriness of the picture.
Paintings by Gustave Caillebotte: Portraying
The portraits by Gustave Caillebotte are as interesting and profound as the landscape painting he used to perform. The versatility and profoundness of the images depicted go along with the opposite and frequently unexpected meaning the author wanted to transit to the viewer. As an example, his painting At a Café completed in 1880 shows the uncertainty of the man’s position in the society and the dual perception of the role which was played by the males (Nga.gov).
The picture depicts a middle-aged man standing at a café at the foreground. The background of the picture is represented by the reflection in the mirror which shows two more men sitting on the sofa and speaking. The picture had been done in the sombre hues. This fact contributes to the transition of the emotions and author’s perception to the viewer. Thus, it becomes possible to assume that the cafés and restaurants of that time were created purely for men, where they could eat and drink, communicate and show their social status. In addition to this, regarding the men at the picture, it is possible to conclude about the fashion trends of the time as well as the key factors which influenced the personal traits of men. Depicting masculinity in the very this picture is the way to show the difference between internal and external contents of the men of the époque and the way they correlate in a single person.
Thus, the man depicted in the foreground can be characterized as a selfish representative of the middle class who intends to be look like the upper class member. His facial expression is a bit odd. The author probably wanted to depict the drunkenness as a key characteristic of the masculinity of the time. This can be proved by the background of the painting: two more men are sitting at their table in the poses which do not characterize them as the sober persons.
The brush-strokes of the painting are strict, accurate and exact. This permits to see in details both background and foreground of the picture. Obviously, this technique had been applied in order to show the real nature of the males which was proper to them in the times the author lived. (The contemporary viewer, however, can assume that the same particularities can be found in the modern men as well). One of the proofs that the brush-strokes are exact and accurate is the fact that the viewer can even notice a glass standing on the table where two men are sitting.
As a consequence, the main subject of the painting is depiction of the leisure time of the middle class men, who were, obviously, fond of cafés and entertainment. Despite the clean and fashionable cloths which were proper to the nineteenth century, the man is depicted as a delighted by life creature who does not have any other tasks except drinking alcohol in a café. This fact depicts the social status of the males and show the opposition between the interior and exterior compounds of the their personality. In other words, the better look they possess, the more active, brutal and liberated way of life they perform. The absence of women in the picture show their social status and the relations with men: the separate and opposite functions performed by the two genders in the society had been determined by the outlooks of the period in history where women did not have such a liberty of choice.
The background details show the level of the café services and environment. The purity of the interior was called to attract the clients in order to serve them. The richness of the large and massive objects such as the mirror which covers the vast part of the painting is symbol of the prosperous period in the history. Thus, the composition of the painting is detailed to the extent it could be, and depicts the particularities of the society and men’s lifestyle which can be noticed after a long-termed looking at the picture and thinking.
Paintings by Gustave Caillebotte: Nude
The depiction of masculinity in the works by Caillebotte was not limited by the portraits of males in various poses and setting. The challenge to the society of that time was represented by the depiction of the make nakedness which can be frequently regarded in the works of the author. One of his paintings which represent the depiction of nude man’s body is Caillebotte’s 1884 painting called Man at His Bath (Nga.gov).
The foreground of the picture represents a semi-naked man who stands showing his back to the viewer. The very this pose provokes a number of sharp reactions towards the messages the author of the painting sends to the society and to the viewer. On the one hand, the man in the picture was painted as a physically powerful one, since the muscles of his rear and breach show a good physical performance. On the other hand, the sleazy cloths and its location upon the man’s body depicts his misery in some way. In other words, the author of the painting fairly combined the strength and weakness of the man of that time and showed the real nature. By depicting the appearance, Caillebotte was able to show the inner world and its contents which were proper to the male part of the population of the period in question.
The background of the picture is the bath which is located next to the gray wall. Such a setting does not appeal the emotions of the purity, regardless the fact that the bathing process had taken place. The towel which is being used by the man for wiping seems to be dirty or badly washed. This produces an impression of the lack of cleanliness. This lack or absence of the cleanliness which is generally proper to the bathing process can be easily associated with the same qualities inside the males.
The colours which have been used for the picture are sombre, their hues are cold. The old-fashioned metal bath brings the impression of poverty as well as the interior of the bathroom in general. The floor which was obviously made of wood shows that the man depicted in the picture belonged to the lower or maximum middle class and used to live in the conditions which do not characterize him as a neat or tidy person. This can be applied not only to the appearance but to the lifestyle and the way of thinking as well.
In general, the composition of the painting under analysis can be characterized as subjective, i.e. that one which is based on the artist’s personal outlook and attitudes. Oppositely, however, it can be viewed as the subjective, since men have always been stereotyped as untidy representatives of the society. As a consequence, it is possible to assume that the degree of sexism the author possessed is manifested the most in the nude portraying.
Gustave Caillebotte in his paintings represented Paris as a city inhabited by the people who had not been focused on the development of the inner world. The look the men have in his paintings is a proof for this assumption. Being frequently well dressed, they make their entertainment from drinking in the cafés where the cloths then cannot look like the way it could if the men in the artist’s paintings were depicted sober. The poor enough exterior of the residence of people shows that they were indifferent to the surrounding or environment they used to live in. It means that the men were aimed at their image, i.e. being brutal and behave as a natural male.