Overview: Caillebotte's Paris Street, Rainy Day
Learn about Caillebotte's large-scale painting of modern Paris and the artist's role among the Impressionists.

Book: Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
Art Institute of Chicago. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 55.

Gustave Caillebotte, who was independently wealthy, helped to finance and organize several of the Impressionist exhibitions, including the third, which was held in Paris in 1877 and featured his own monumental Paris Street; Rainy Day. This painting is a spectacular portrait of the French capital, with its broad boulevards and tunneling vistas, as it was radically reconfigured under Prefect Baron Georges Eugène von Haussmann. Scaffolding is visible in the far background, just to the right of the center lamppost, suggesting that the city’s controversial "Haussmannization" was still in progress. Caillebotte himself owned property near this intersection in the prosperous eighth arrondissement. Populated with fashionable women and men, as well as with workers of various sorts, the canvas is an impressive rendition of the new urban environment that the artist both observed and inhabited. Caillebotte and his Impressionist colleagues shared an interest in the strikingly modern spaces of Paris. But Caillebotte’s work—unlike Claude Monet’s atmospheric renderings of train stations Pierre Auguste Renoir’s anecdotal images of popular entertainment venues—focuses on the psychology of individual experience.

Relying on draftsmanship more than on texture or color, in Paris Street; Rainy Day he created a composition that combines apparent spontaneity with precise choreography. Each well-dressed couple or individual strolls in a different direction, avoiding eye contact; no narrative incidents result from their random proximity. Yet the figures do relate to one another formally, for their glances, postures, and relative sizes all complement and reinforce the converging diagonals that dictate the painting’s perspective. With its large scale, methodical design, and curious stillness, Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day perhaps finds its closest counterpart not in the work of the Impressionists but in that of their successor Georges Seurat, who painted his Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884 less than a decade later.