The Floor Planers by Caillebotte
Under the Third Republic, many city halls commissioned paintings glorifying the virtues of hard work. And it is exactly on this kind of glorification that the impressionist painters made the difference. In some of his paintings, Caillebotte, like Degas, shows effort and the tiredness. But their arts are without pathos: they are neither picturesque nor moralizing. Caillebotte soberly shows the reality of work.
Gustave was born in 1848, into a wealthy family who made their fortune in textile industry. He studied in the famous Louis le Grand high school (named after Louis XIV), then he went to university where he learned law. After learning from Bonnat and the School of Fine Arts in Paris in 1873, Caillebotte met Monet and Renoir. He exhibited at the Salon of 1875, without success. Friend of Monet, Degas, Renoir, he helped them organize the first independent exhibition in Paris, in 1874. This group became the “the Impressionist group”, thank to the art critic Louis Leroy.
Caillebotte’s style belongs to realism but was influenced by the Impressionists. He aimed to paint reality as it existed and as he saw it. The artist was generous and helped his friends by buying their paintings and by supporting the expenses of their exhibitions. He died in 1894 from a pulmonary congestion at 45 years old. He is now buried in the most famous cemetery in the world, the Père Lachaise. During his lifetime, he painted about 500 works, in a style often more realistic than the Impressionists. He stopped to paint at the age of 34, and devoted himself to gardening and constructing racing boats.
One of his most famous work is the Floor Scrapers, painted in 1875, possibly in one of his apartments. Indeed, we know that the Caillebotte family was rich, not only thanks to the textiles, but also with the real seats business. Here, we are in a famous « Haussmannian » apartment, built under the reign of Napoleon the Third, and the prefect of Paris, Haussmann. Haussmann rebuilt Paris, giving the city lighter, beautiful avenues, beautiful buildings.
With the Floor Planers, we are inside one of them, maybe close from the new Opera house, the magnificent Opéra Garnier or in the Plaine Monceau, located in the western part of Paris. Caillebotte was 27 years old when he painted this masterpiece, now world famous, and exhibited at Orsay Museum in Paris. The theme, too simple, was rarely represented at this time. Indeed, it is very innovative to represent the working-class. The Academy wanted more precious, intellectual and historical subjects.
When you look the painting, which is quite large, it looks like a photography: the corner of the table, on the right, is cut. Indeed, Caillebotte was one of the first to accept photography as an art. He has chosen, here, to illustrate a scene from modern Parisian life. This representation of workers at their task is meticulously done, down the description of the tools. The torsos remember us the classical training of the painter, at School of Fine Arts. But the refusal to idealize the male nude, the play on the golden light, the foreshortened perspective, the contra-angle… Everything contributes to a profound innovative work.
The artist paid tribute to their work: he depicts with dignity the three men, working hard on the knees: we can observe that they are sweating. The main color (the bodies, the floor, the wooden decorative details on the wall) is beige. This color shows the nobility of the wooden floor. Men, as we can see, are not speaking. But they are linked to each other. The bottle of wine gives a detail. Wine was the common drink in the 19th century.
Painters like Caillebotte are essentials to understand the life of the second part of the 19th century, to show existence and the life of Bourgeois, who made also Paris.