Gustave Caillebotte
French, 1848–1894
Paris Street; Rainy Day

Oil on canvas
83 1/2 x 108 3/4in. (212.2 x 276.2 cm)
Inscribed at lower left: G. Caillebotte. 1877
Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1964.336

Beginning in 1851, the government of Napoleon III transformed the old streets of Paris into a new system of grand boulevards. This painting abounds with evidence of the city’s rebuilding. Gustave Caillebotte selected a complex intersection near the Saint-Lazare train station for his subject, distorting the size of the buildings and the distance between them to create a wide-angle view that reflects the sweeping modernity of this capital city.

The artist’s family owned property in the busy neighborhood depicted here, which was populated by wealthy Parisians and workers of various sorts. In the foreground, a man and woman wearing fashionable clothes stroll down the sidewalk. Behind them stand the uniformly designed buildings that were added to Paris during the renovations overseen by French administrator Baron Haussmann.

The highly crafted surface, monumental size, geometric order, and elaborate perspective of Paris Street; Rainy Day (the artist used a gaslight to separate the foreground from the middle and distant views) are more academic than Impressionist in character. Caillebotte clearly intended these elements to underscore the power of painting to capture the momentary quality of everyday life. In this cropped composition, it is easy to imagine that in just a moment, everyone in the painting will have moved and nothing will be the same.