Rainy Days with Caillebotte and a Little Bit of Hockney

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:

Gustave Caillebotte, View from a Balcony, 1880, Oil on canvas, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

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:

Gustave Caillebotte, The Orange Trees, 1878, Oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas

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:

Caillebotte, The Orange Trees, detail

(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:

David Hockney, Rain, 1973, Lithograph, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

(For more Caillebotte, check out my previous post on The Floor Scrapers – the painting is breathtaking! And for more on Paris Street, Rainy Day, Sedef’s Corner’s post is a must-read.)

10 thoughts on “Rainy Days with Caillebotte and a Little Bit of Hockney

  1. Karen – I’ve seen Rainy Day, Paris Street for years…since Dave and I were in Chicago for college and go back to the Art Institute often, but for some reason, today, when I looked at it, I thought – oh, it’s like a Japanese print…and then I read on to your saying the same…even the Hockney looked that way to me. One of my son Andy’s favorities is a more contemporary Japanese print maker whose name alludes me…but Caillebotte reminds me of him.

    • Hi Trudy – I love it! After I started thinking about Japanese prints, even the umbrellas in the Paris scene reminded me of them. Looking forward to seeing the painting again in person next month. If you think of the name of the Japanese artist, let me know.
      Thanks for reading!
      -Karen

  2. Karen,

    Caillebotte is one of my favorite artists, there is something that is contemplative in all his works. I can just get lost in his paintings or in my own parallel inner world as I stand in front of one of his works for some time. I really enjoyed reading your post (I found myself nodding in agreement the whole time) David Hockney lithograph completes this post so wonderfully.

    Great job and thank you for bringing sunshine to my friday.

    • Glad you liked it, Sedef! Contemplative is a good word – I get lost in his paintings, too, which always surprises me, because I’m not a huge Impressionist fan. But I could look at Caillebotte’s work for hours. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!
      -Karen

  3. Karen – Here is the Japanese artist I was trying to remember…I do love Japanese prints of whatever era…(in fact, I took an entire course in The Japanese Print in college – I was a Far Eastern Studies major).

    Hasui Kawase -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hasui

    • Thanks, Trudy! I’ve never heard of him – will definitely take a closer look. Have you seen the current exhibition at the Chazen – the sea in Japanese prints? If not, I think it’s worth a visit. (Plus the Michael Lucero installation is fun to walk through.)

  4. He is a popular artist – I too have long admired Caillebotte’s works and your post helps me reconnect with that. As far as I’m aware, his perspectives are a bit different to his contemporaries and it’s this aspect I particularly like about his paintings of boats (row boats). They make you feel as if your in the boat with the rower. I like your comparison to photographs – I made the same connection when first studying his works. It’s an interesting thought as I’m spending so much time trying to capture and share my current travels – I’ve become very aware of those tendencies in photographic perspectives – and when they fail or succeed to communicate a moment, letting others feel they’re there with you. Caillebotte was ahead of his time. Hat tip.

    • His perspectives seem different to me, too. I love the idea of your photographs trying to communicate a moment. That’s a fascinating way of looking at it. I’ll have to keep that in mind!

      I see that you’re in Turkey now – hope all’s going well! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

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