Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte

It’s one  of those paintings that come to symbolize a whole city.

Gustave Caillebotte‘s Paris Street; Rainy Day was exhibited for the first time in the Third Impressionist exhibition in Paris, held in 1877. The author, a 29-year-old and independently wealthy artist was the youngest member of the Impressionist group. The present painting and Caillebotte’s work in general is not typical of the overall Impressionist style, partially due to the artist’s delicate brushwork (as opposed to broken brushstrokes in paintings by Claude Monet, for example). There is a great sense of lines and contours. Nothing is dissolving into the light or brushwork. In Paris Street every object is depicted through a solid form – umbrellas, costumes, buildings and even cobblestones. But most importantly this work stands out from the rest of Impressionist cityscapes because of its unoptimistic take on Paris (as opposed to Renoir’s joyful Luncheon of the Boating Party). And yet Paris Street; Rainy Day is perhaps one of the most recognizable Impressionist works created during that time.  

In this carefully composed and balanced work Caillebotte depicted modern Parisian life guided by his own impression. The city had just undergone Baron Haussmann’s radical redeveloping and restructuring and its citizens were faced with the task of adjusting to the new urban scenario in a rationally planned Paris where the working classes were relocated from the city to the growing suburbs. To Caillebotte these changes were unsettling and he most certainly empathized with those who had to leave and those who stayed.

Caillebotte depicted an intersection near the Gare St. Lazare, which is not a particularly large space, but to strengthen the idea of social and emotional distance between the people, Gustave Caillebotte masterfully exaggerated the width of the boulevards leaving the figures to wander without interacting with each other. Even the group in the foreground, which is about to clash their umbrellas, seems alienated. Paris Street is a depiction of human non-interaction. The people attending the exhibition in 1877 were the bourgeois middle classes who lived in Paris and witnessed these conditions around them. Paris Street; Rainy Day was probably intended to make them self-conscious about the changes.

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