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Gustave Caillebotte's Paris Street; Rainy Day

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Gustave Caillebotte's Paris Street; Rainy Day

The first thing that strikes me is the size of the work. About seven

feet tall and nine feet wide, this painting dominates its gallery and

overwhelms the viewer. The couple in the foreground of the painting is

nearly life size, and with the man poised to take another step it

seems he might climb right over the frame and walk right into the

gallery. The bold perspective thrusts the scene outward, and with

details such as the sharply receding roofline of the main building and

the acute tilt of the street, geometric and visual effects are created

which push and pull the viewer and instill the painting with action.

This work is more complex and detailed then one might first imagine,

and with such a rich surface and vast array of minutiae it truly

requires an "in person" viewing for full comprehension.

Painted in 1877 by the wealthy painter/impressionist connoisseur

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris, A Rainy Day is a depiction of a familiar

five-way intersection in a wealthy area of Paris near the artist's

home on a rainy and overcast day. A host of characters are dispersed

throughout the canvas, strolling about and engaging in usual daily

activities. The expansive street and uniform architecture, common in

Paris after Haussmann's renovations, are accentuated, and in many ways

the work is a verisitic snapshot of modern everyday life.

In the foreground a well to do couple with interlocked arms and a

shared umbrella walks towards the viewer. By noting the angle of

reflections from the lamppost and other figures it seems as if the

painter is taking his view from directly in front of these persons,

and being the most prominent figures they certainly warrant a more

detailed discussion. The man gazes to his right. His eyes are a soft

grayish hue and he walks assertively. The gaze on his face is

difficult to read; perhaps he is longing or being contemplative, in

any event he seems detached. It seems reasonable to label him the

protagonist. The woman tilts her head as well, and is most likely

observing the same object or event as her companion. Observed close up

she appears to have an emergent smile on her comely face. The dots on

her veil, a dazzlingly white earring (likely a diamond) and an azure

blue tuft of cloth noticeable at her neckline are particularly

striking, and provide vibrancy...

... middle of paper ...

...e men from the title

of flaneur. In the expression on their faces it almost seems as if

there is some yearning for prior times.

Because this painting is a modern cityscape it is ipso facto a

painting of modernity (one thinks of Baudelair) and a record of the

fashions of 1877. By recording the actual events of his own time,

Caillebotte was part of a somewhat radical new type of painting. His

figures are shown accurately in contemporary dress, and he has

essentially taken a mundane and fleeting moment and captured it

eternally on a monumental scale. Celebrating modernity, while

simultaneously casting a critical eye, is one of the signature

hallmarks of impressionism and inchoate modern art.

Paris, A Rainy Day is a complex work of both technical virtuosity and

implied thematic elements which synthesize to engross the viewer

visually and entice them mentally to think about urban life and

feelings of alienation. The painting conflates multiple issues which

surround and form the foundation of the art historical study of the

Impressionists' Paris, and remains in its grandeur as a historical

visual document, a commentary on urban life, and a testament to

modernity.
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