Skip to main content

Gustave Caillebotte: Impressions of Water

People often lose umbrellas, but I've held onto a special one for many years - a large parapluie (literally, for the rain, in French) with a wooden base and curved handle that upon opening reveals the painting Paris Street, Rainy Day by painter Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894). That particular work, housed in the Art Institute of Chicago, shows a well-dressed couple walking arm in arm down a sidewalk on a boulevard of Paris. The man is holding an umbrella, and just to the right another man walks forward into the picture, pulling his umbrella out of the way so as not to bump them. Behind these subjects in the foreground we see many others in motion crossing the street. With an elongated perspective that draws the eye back toward a building near an intersection of Gare Saint-Lazare and then back to again to the cobblestones up front, the painting established the painter-flâneur, an upper-class Parisian from a prosperous family, as the leading urban Impressionist.

Gustave Caillebotte: Parisian Impressionist with a Passion for WaterWith so much rain this week in New York, I've opened my umbrella more times than I can count. The image, though not on display in New York, also served to remind me to visit the Brooklyn Museum for the exhibit, Gustave Caillebotte: Impressionist Paintings from Paris to the Sea, and take in the work of a like-minded observer of nature and the city streets. Where in the previous post I cast doubts on Dylan as a flâneur, there's no doubt that Caillebotte fits the description. He strolls the streets in a top hat, builds boats, cultivates hobbies like photography, summers elsewhere, and due to his generous inheritance, doesn't worry about making money on his art. He bankrolls the work of others, including Monet, Renoir and Pissarro, by buying their paintings, and in the case of Monet, taking care of studio costs. He was so wealthy that few critics and taste-makers took him seriously as an artist.

Caillebotte's interest in photography is often given as a potential explanation for his odd points of view, skewed perspectives and distortions. While it's been difficult to document his use of the photographic image in his process, it's true that advances in photography in the 1870s led to a wider distribution of faster, hand-held cameras. The photogenic qualities of his work may be viewed in several paintings at the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, including Oarsmen Rowing on the Yerres, 1877. Still, he was a painter and curious to explore, along with his fellow Impressionists, qualities of light, perspective, color, reflections and water. While the Brooklyn exhibit offers many views of Paris and streets, the element of water - as rain drops on the street, waves in the ocean, or ripples stirred by oaring boatsmen in the river, stands out as a focal point for the artist. Though optics and light bridge the worlds of the photographer and painter, the passion for Caillebotte and his friends was not to photograph the scene but to render the effects of the play of light and water with paint on canvas.

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens May 6, 2009

After visiting the Caillebotte exhibit and other objects of interest in the Brooklyn Museum (I recommend exhibits at the Sackler Center for Feminist Art), it makes sense to visit the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden (above) to look at flowers and ripples on the water. Sometimes, images of our world, even in New York, still look like an Impressionist painting. Buy the art and garden pass for $16.

Gustave Caillebotte. Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877). Art Institute of Chicago.
Gustave Caillebotte. Le pont de l'Europe (1876) Petit Palais, Geneva
Gustave Caillebotte. L'Yerres, pluie (1875) Indiana Art Museum - Bloomington

Image of the Japanese Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden by Walking Off the Big Apple from May 6, 2009.

Gustave Caillebotte: Impressionist Paintings from Paris to the Sea
Brooklyn Museum, Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing, 5th Floor
Through July 5, 2009
200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York
Wednesday–Friday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Saturday–Sunday: 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

Coming next: A walk through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

For more on Impressionism and perception, see Walking with Seurat in the Deepening Darkness.









Popular posts from this blog

A New York Spring Calendar: Blooming Times and Seasonal Events

See the UPDATED 2018 CALENDAR HERE . Updated for 2017 . At this time of year, thoughts turn to spring. Let's spring forward to blooming times, the best locations for witnessing spring's beginnings, and springtime events in the big city. While the occasional snow could blow through the city, we're just weeks now from callery pears in bloom and opening day at the ballpark. In The Ramble, Central Park. mid-April Blooming Times •  Central Park Conservancy's website  lists blooming times within the park. During the month of March we begin to see crocus, daffodils, forsythia, snowdrops, witch-hazel, and hellebores. Species tulips will emerge in several places, but the Shakespeare Garden and Conservatory Garden are particularly good places to catch the beginning of Spring blooms. Central Park near E. 72nd St., saucer magnolia, typically end of March. •  Citywide Blooming Calendar from New York City Department of Parks & Recreation April is u

Traversing Manhattan: An Afternoon Trip to the Battery and Back Again

  Wherein the vaccinated sightseer from Northern Manhattan travels to the southern end of the island by means of the express bus, the MTA subway, and the NYC ferry, with a little sauntering on foot In Battery Park, during the first blushes of spring in New York. View of One World Trade Center Residents of the far north and far south of Manhattan are the ones most keenly aware that they live on an island. The north end of the borough tapers to a relatively small area of land, bounded by the confluence of the Harlem and Hudson Rivers and the waters of Spuyten Duyvil. The land is hilly and green, with an old growth forest. The Battery sits on the southern end, a land where the geography is defined by the meeting of the East River, the Hudson River, and the vast New York Harbor. Manhattan stretches a little over 13 miles on the long side and just 2.3, more or less, at its width. On 42nd Street, approaching Grand Central Terminal. A resident of the hilly northern terrain may sometimes long

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers. Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.   Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been fr

Visiting New York City Again on the First Day of Spring

  The first weekend of spring in New York City coincided with bright and pleasing weather. Blue skies and Blue Jays, Bald Eagles and brightened crowds greeted the new season, at least in my world. It may be a cliché to say something like “Hope is in the air,” but contrast this spring of 2021 with the one a year ago, the new mood is palpable. Last year during early spring, the city shut down, in caution and crisis, but this season feels like a resurrection, albeit still cautious. The Met Steps on Fifth Avenue Last spring, when many of the city’s residents feared going outside, many are at least partially vaccinated now. The numbers rise every day. I have been fully vaccinated for a month now, so I used the occasion to revisit New York City. I have been out and about in my neighborhood, but in terms of the public New York City, the one celebrated in tourist books and on this website, I have not ventured there much at all.  A Bald Eagle grasps a fish in its talons outside the Met Cloister

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block.  A line to vote in Washington Heights. The line stretched around the block multiple times. Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.   The scene outside the entrance to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, one of the early voting locations in Washington Heights. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia Universit

Walking on Snow

❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ For the better part of this new year, snow has been either on the ground or in the forecast. In the city landscape, the streets look enchanting for a day or so and then devolve into a dirty mess. This sort of snow is unappealing for an invigorating walk. A snowy path in Inwood Hill Park The forest, on the other hand, has managed to stay enchanting throughout each bout of winter weather. The presence of owls and hawks, bright red cardinals and sweet chickadees, and brown squirrels and black squirrels transform the woodlands into a fairy tale. An Eastern Screech-Owl at home in the winter forest I've spent much of the whole pandemic year, going back to March 2020, in the woods of Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. While I have been accustomed to walking through the park in spring, summer, and autumn, I've never managed to engage with the deepest parts of the forest when a lot of snow was on the ground. Last winter there wasn't much snow anyway. Eastern Screech-Owl

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge:  "The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apr

A Morning Walk from Penn Station to Times Square

Penn Station to Times Square New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after.  At 34th Street and 8th Avenue, an outsize reminder of the public health crisis from Montefiore Medical Center After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle.  34th Street looking east toward the Empire State Building I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months.  8th Avenue at W. 38th Street After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds.  A few commuters near Port Authority and The New York Times building, 8th Avenue and W. 40th Street Yet, I had

Walking It Off: Coping with Holiday Stress During the Pandemic

When I began this series, “Pandemic Posts from the Pause: New York City in the Age of Coronavirus” in March of 2020, I could see the first young greens of spring from my window. New Yorkers were told to stay home then and away from others. As someone who enjoys walking in the city, I knew that I would need to sacrifice many things this year. I was not going to give up walking. I quickly figured out that I could safely go to Inwood Hill Park near my house and wander the trails in the old forest. In March, I could breathe in the spring air away from others. There was little else to do during those early days of the “pause.” New Yorkers suffered greatly at the beginning. In a few months we were able to get the numbers down and to manage some semblance of human interaction, at a distance and masked.  Now, with the beginning of the holidays, the city and nation faces the existential threat of the virus’s return, the political assault on democratic norms, and the ongoing threat of the clima