Gustave Caillebotte Outed?

Gustave Caillebotte 'Rainy Day'
Gustave Caillebotte’s iconic ‘Paris, Rainy Day’

One of the most prolific and remarkable 19th century Impressionist painters Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) flew under the radar for close to a hundred years. Unlike his famous peers (Manet, Monet, Degas, Renoir) Caillebotte did not offer his paintings for sale during his lifetime, and after his death, his oeuvre stayed in the bosom of the family for generations. 

The National Gallery of Art in DC is currently exhibiting one of the largest collections of his work ever gathered under one roof. The opening lecture by curator and head of the department of French paintings, Mary Morton, touched upon a number of revelatory facts about Caillebotte’s work that led me to think that the artist may well be celebrating last week’s Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, albeit from the grave.

Man at his bath
‘Man at his bath’

Ms. Morton didn’t go as far as hypothesizing that Caillebotte may have been gay but she did point out his unconventional approach to popular subject matter. Lots of artists at the time were painting women at their ‘toilette’ but Caillebotte’s Man at his bath (above and below) definitely broke with convention. 

Caillebotte II

Ms. Morton also pointed out that Caillebotte’s only interior cafe scene differed from those of his peers in that the central and seated figures are men. The standing figure is definitely checking out the other two guys.
Caillebotte IVAnother very popular painting subject was the pleasurable boating party usually depicting couples enjoying a balmy afternoon on the water. Caillebotte’s painting seats the viewer right in the boat with a rather hunky male specimen. 

Caillebotte IIIMs. Morton also spoke about the rise in prostitution – both male and female – that became endemic in the newly urbanized Paris following the city’s unprecedented Haussmanian renovation of the 1850’s. Caillebotte never married. And now I can’t help looking at his most famous painting ‘The Floor Scrapers’ (below) with a different eye. Those bare muscled torsos may have had as much of an appeal for Caillebotte as they do for this artist!

Gustave Caillebotte 'The Floor Scrapers'
Gustave Caillebotte ‘The Floor Scrapers’

In fact, walking through the magnificent exhibition at the National Gallery, the rich paintings reflect a noticeable absence of women in the place of beautifully executed and composed paintings exuding male camaraderie. It matters not one iota to me what Caillebotte’s sexual orientation may have been but if indeed he were gay, the social mores of his day would have forced him into the closet. I therefore salute the Supreme Court for upholding laws that will hopefully allow people to live without fear of reprisal as a result of their choice of sexual partner.

Game of Bezique
‘Game of Bezique’ – featuring friends of Caillebotte’s, many of whom never married

The exhibition is on view in Washington DC through October 4, 2015.

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11 thoughts on “Gustave Caillebotte Outed?

    • kestrelart June 29, 2015 / 11:47 pm

      Sorry didn’t finish comment
      Thanks for posting this. Would never have seen these otherwise.

  1. tgkohn July 2, 2015 / 7:08 am

    How many Caillebotte paintings are shown in the exhibition? I’ve seen most of these online already, but not in the combination you posted here. Indeed, thanks for that. Does the exhibition include sketches and finished drawings as well? I consider the sketch as truly indicative of an artist’s most direct intention, and therefore most revelatory.

    • liliannemilgrom July 2, 2015 / 11:20 am

      I agree with you about sketches. However none in this exhibit. But there must be 50 or more paintings – some unusual perspectives of Paris streets included and many lesser known works.
      Thanks for your interest, Lilianne

    • Tony January 18, 2016 / 7:01 am

      The exhibit by the National Gallery in DC and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth featured 50 paintings, it was an OUTSTANDING exhibit, thoroughly enjoyed which I saw today !!

  2. Dick Sheffer July 16, 2015 / 5:22 pm

    As I was walking to the National Gallery yesterday (07/15/15) to see the Caillebotte exhibit, I was thinking to myself, ironically in hindsight, how odd it was that there were no gay French impressionist painters.

    But as a friend and I toured the galleries, our gaydar started to pick up a possible candidate. To me, the second “Man at his Bath” painting above, showing the seated man, seems a case in point.

    This picture is not in the NG exhibition, nor have I been able to find it in online catalogs. Where is this picture located and is that its official title?

    For me it does matter that historical figures be “outed” because denying prominent gay people their achievements and contributions to society and culture has been one of the ways all gay people have been stigmatized and denied their worth and dignity as well.

      • Dick Sheffer July 17, 2015 / 3:10 am

        Thank you so much for the additional information. With the help of your reference, I did a little more sleuthing and discovered that the title is “Man drying his leg,” and it is listed as being in a private collection with a reference to The Bridgeman Art Library. A print of it is available commercially from various places.

  3. btidwell August 14, 2015 / 4:17 am

    I just finished Susan Vreeland’s historic novel Luncheon of the Boating Party and came looking for more info on Cailebotte. He is the very handsome man on the lower right. Renoir discovers that Alphonsine Fournaise (leaning on the rail) has a crush on Gustave and gently explains to her that Gustave has no interest in women, “His need for intimacy is taken care of by men, cherie.” Later, Alphonsine references The Floor Scrapers, and realizes that Renoir is right. The novel is fiction, of course, but Vreeland researched her facts very carefully and would never had depicted Cailebotte that way if it weren’t true. The novel, by the way, is excellent! I can’t recommend it highly enough! Especially for fans of Impressionism.

    • liliannemilgrom August 14, 2015 / 12:41 pm

      Thank you so much for directing us all to this novel. I can’t wait to read it!

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