The rebirth of Gustatve Caillebotte’s house, painter and patron of impressionists – Meanderings through France n° 141
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Gustave Caillebotte is one of these outstanding minds of the 19th century who was able to master different knowledge and knowhow, and make a brilliant career in each one. Painter, impressionists’ patron, horticulturalist, sailor and naval architect… he passionately and successfully indulged in them all. Today his family’s estate located in Paris region has been beautifully restored and is a venue dedicated to arts and beauty. Until July 29 it welcomes an impressive exhibition introducing us to Symbolist art.
Although Yerres is not as famous as Giverny, Auvers-sur-Oise or Honfleur, this dynamic town 25 km South-east of Paris played an important role in the history of impressionism in France. Gustave Caillebotte whose paintings are now exhibited in major museums throughout the world, spent long summer holidays here from 1860 till 1878. These were joyful times when young Caillebotte found inspiration living in the countryside. Over these years he painted 89 pictures depicting his outdoor life with his brothers and friends, swimming, fishing or boating on the River Yerres that goes through the estate.
Gustave’s father, Martial Caillebotte, made a fortune by providing sheets and blankets to Napoleon III’s armies and Gustave never had any money problems. But most of all Martial was broad-minded and always left his four sons the choice to live their life the way they wanted to and Gustave’s artistic career never was impeded. On the contrary Martial always supported him, encouraging his son to travel to Italy, helping him to study and work with Leon Bonnat, a famous painter of the time, and even having an artist studio built in their Parisian house especially for him.
Gustave Caillebotte actually started his artistic life as a patron of the arts organising exhibitions for the impressionist group’s works that were not yet acknowledged as masterpieces, and purposefully buying at high prices paintings by Degas, Renoir, Monet, Pissaro… This is how the Caillebotte collection was born. Most of it was donated to the French State after Caillebotte’s death and can be seen at the Orsay Museum in Paris while the rest of the collection was sold to foreign museums, mostly in the USA.
Caillebotte’s paintings are like snapshots of day-to-day life. He had a way to frame his paintings inspired by photography thus creating his own distinctive style. No other painter had ever used this kind of composition before him and you will easily get used to it and recognize his paintings at once. Whether painting people working, as in the famous “Floor Scrapers” or “The Gardeners”, or painting sportsmen such as the “Oarsmen” or “Bathers Preparing To Dive” or “Boating Party”, or painting simple domestic scenes such as “Luncheon” or “Still Life”, or painting landscapes, Caillebotte blends Realism and Impressionism and intends to show us reality as he saw it. Amazingly his reality still looks modern to us.
The 1870’s were sad years for the Caillebotte family. Gustave’s father died in 1874, then his younger brother in 1876 and his mother passed away 2 years afterwards. Gustave and his two other brothers sold their Yerres’ property in 1879. In the following decades it belonged to the Dubois family, then it was sold again to another private owner in 1963. It slowly fell into neglect before being purchased by the city of Yerres in 1973 to save it from destruction. It was not only before 1995 that the town council decided to renovate the whole estate. Step by step the park, the aviary, the farm, the Swiss chalet, the orangery, the footbridge, the kitchen garden, the mountain style cottage, the chapel, the oriental bandstand, the underground ice house and finally the house have been carefully restored to their original splendour. Today this park is a green oasis right in the city centre of Yerres and offers beautiful views reminiscent of Caillebotte’s pictures. Even the kitchen garden well maintained by a volunteers’ association, welcomes visitors during spring and summer seasons (free entry).
Using Gustave’s paintings and photos made by his brother Martial, the property looks the same as it did 150 years ago. Period furniture, precious material, panoramic wallpapers, art objects or everyday objects have carefully been collected to recreate a typical upper-middle-class interior of the mid-nineteenth century. The magnificent Empire furniture of the parental bedroom that can be seen today, is the actual furniture set in this room by Anne-Marie Gaudin. She was the widow of Martin-Guillaume Biennais, a famous goldsmith and cabinetmaker of Napoleon. She bought the property in 1843 and furnished her bedroom with mahogany and golden bronze furniture produced in her deceased husband’s workshop. A rarity and the highlight of the visit!
The farm and the orangery have been turned into exhibition halls dedicated to 19th century art movements. This year exhibition highlights Symbolism with 160 works of art patiently and lovingly collected by a French couple fascinated by the quest of Symbolist artists. From 1890 to 1014 French and European artists met and worked in France but never created an artistic movement as the Impressionists did. However they all had a strong feeling of rejection of the society of their time especially of Academic Art and Realist Art, including Impressionism and Naturalism. They believed in mystery, spirituality and explored the subconscious thus opening the way to 20th century’s Surrealism, Expressionism and Abstraction. Although they didn’t define themselves as an artistic movement they organised exhibitions mainly on the occasion of the Rosicrucian fairs. Several posters of these exhibitions welcome the visitors of today presentation of their work.
The exhibition, poetically called “La Porte des Rêves”, ” The door to Dreams”, gathers paintings, sculptures, pastels, lithography, drawings or enamels made by 50 different artists. The exhibition includes works by major Symbolists artists such as Romaine Brooks, Edgar Maxence, Carlos Schwabe, Henry de Groux, Alphonse Osbert, Camille Claudel… The works on display in the farm take us on a journey exploring legends, myths, ideal landscapes, muses and finally to the dark side of Symbolism when dreams become nightmares! The exhibition ends in the Orangery where monumental paintings and sculptures depict the Symbolist search for an unattainable ideal.
An audio guide available in several languages will help you through your visit of both the Caillebotte’s house and the Symbolist exhibition. The exhibition ends on July 29.
More at http://proprietecaillebotte.com/, (only in French).
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny