One of the big exhibitions in Madrid over the summer was 'Caillebotte: Painter and Gardener' at the lovely Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and it's on for another couple of weeks if you're going to be in Madrid. Gustave Caillebotte was an Impressionist but has never really been considered as more than a chum of the main Impressionist painters who bought their paintings (because he had the money) and was considered as almost a hobby painter. He's a lot more than that and this exhibition helps to re-evaluate him and his work.
I was first aware of M. Caillebotte by seeing his 'The Floor Planers' in Musee D'Orsay in Paris hanging amongst the Impressionist paintings. It's not terribly Impressionistic in style, but the theme of depicting common workers is spot on. Other paintings I've seen since then were all urban in theme and then I went to see the 'Painting The Modern Garden' at the Royal Academy earlier this year and saw Caillebotte's lovely and massively colourful paintings of his garden and learned that he used to swap cuttings with Monet. A gardener, indeed, and the Thyssen exhibition focuses on that aspect of his work.
The first room of the exhibition included examples of Parisian street scenes, such as 'The House Painters' (above) and Parisians at rest, such as the 'Oarsman In A Top Hat', the poster-boy for the exhibition and cover of the catalogue. This is a great painting with the reeds along the riverbanks, the ripples in the water and the creases in the clothes of the oarsmen - definitely not the work of a hobby painter. There's also the hint at the working class with the two less-elaborately clothed rowers in the boat in the distance. I wonder if the trendy young man had any inkling that he'd still be looked at 140 years after the painting was made?
We then head into rooms of lovely landscapes from Argenteuil, of fields and trees, lazy, cloudy skies, mysterious paths and fields of sunflowers. It was lovely getting up close to the paintings to see how many colours he mixed to create his fields and leaves, with blues and yellows and reds mixed in with the greens to create astonishing fields and sun-dappled trees. A dab here and a jot there.
One of the paintings I loved was 'Forest Path' with its banks of creepers and trees and a hint of Autumn coming as the path quietly turns to the right and you've no idea what's there. The mystery and potential surprise of the painting draws you in. This reminded me of some of my walks over the summer exploring different bits of London and the surprises that can lie around every corner.
The final rooms were filled with paintings of flowers, a series of paintings of daisies and flowers from Caillebotte's greenhouse (I suspect he had large greenhouse). One of my favourites was a painting of different varieties of chrysanthemums in small colourful vases called simply, 'Four Vases of Chrysanthemums'. The different colours of the feathery flowers, and the different varieties just sitting in a typical still-life composition, flowers stuck into small, colourful vases. It's the simplicity and colours of the painting that I loved. I'd happily hang that painting on my wall.
It's a lovely exhibition throwing the spotlight onto a painter who deserves it. It will be nice to see more of his paintings in future, watch his painting develop as he learned to explore his art. Maybe one day we'll be brave enough to mount an exhibition of his works in London? Who knows? It's nice that Gustave recognised the beauty in a garden of daisies.