We’ve had more than our share of rainy days this summer. Today is another one. And I love it. Looking out the window at the gray roof next door and the gray sky above it brings to my mind Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street, Rainy Day. This is one of those paintings that I’ve seen so many times, I don’t even see it anymore. Know what I mean?
This painting has always looked like a snapshot to me: The feet of the people in the foreground are cut off, the top of the lamp behind them is cut off. The focus of the painting, the man and woman walking under and umbrella, are off to one side, so we have a clear view of the wedge-shaped building at the intersection behind them. So are they the focus, or is it the building? Caillebotte has a way of giving us something unexpected – maybe that’s what’s always drawn me to this painting. It’s conventional, but it’s not. (That, and the fact that I’ve known Paris Street, Rainy Day since I was a child playing the board game “Masterpiece.”)
Here’s another example:
Because it’s called “View from a Balcony,” we try to look through the railing to see what’s below. A street. A horse and carriage. Is that a person crossing the street? That’s about all we can make out. Then we think, despite the title, maybe it’s actually about the railing (“View of a Balcony Railing”?). Maybe it’s about the pattern that the railing creates. (Caillebotte, like so many of his fellow Impressionists, was inspired by the flat patterns of Japanese prints.) For me, this painting is about focusing on and appreciating what’s in front of me. Am I curious about what’s going on down there in the street? Yes, of course. Would I like to be a part of it? Yes, probably. But it’s nice up here on the balcony. And that’s where I am. So I’ll take a deep breath, sit back, and try to live in the moment. (This painting would be a nice taking off point for a short story, wouldn’t it? What’s going on inside, behind the viewer?)
Another example of the conventional and the unexpected: Read the title, then look at this painting:
Although this painting is called “The Orange Trees” (read more about it here), the main focus is not the orange trees. In fact, if he didn’t tell us these were orange trees, I wouldn’t know. And if he hadn’t given the painting that title, I would probably have barely looked at the trees. Sure, they provide shade, which is why, on a hot summer day, the people in the painting (Caillebotte’s brother and cousin) are in this spot. And why the dog is not:
(So typical. My big, black dog does the same thing. Lies in the sun and pants, when there’s shade nearby. Soaking in the vitamin D, maybe?) But is the painting about the orange trees? Something to think about.
As I look out the window again at the gray, rainy day, I pull myself back from the hot, summer day in The Orange Trees and leave you with my current favorite rain image by David Hockney. Lose yourself in this for a few minutes before you continue on with your day: