Gustave Caillebotte, Les raboteurs de parquet (The Floor Scrapers), 1875, oil on canvas, 102 x 146.5 cm (40.2 × 57.7 in.). At his death in 1894, Caillebotte bestowed the painting to the Musée du Luxembourg where it was accepted. In 1929, it was transferred to the Musée du Louvre. It was relocated again in 1947 when it was moved to the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume. In 1986 it was brought to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
By John P. Walsh
The first Impressionist exhibition was held in Paris in 1874. Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) who had in 1875 divided a more than two million franc inheritance with his priest-brother Alfred and sibling Martial was not of the Impressionists’ rank for that watershed show.
Henri Rouart (1833-1912) was of the same high social circle as his neighbor Caillebotte and one of the two signatures on the formal invitation to Caillebotte inviting him to exhibit in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. The other signatory was Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Caillebotte accepted and sent eight paintings including his famous The Floor Scrapers (Les raboteurs de parquet) that today hangs in the Museé D’Orsay.
The Impressionists were not purists to their collective cause and to varying degrees many of them if reluctantly exhibited in the Government’s annual exhibition known as the Salon. Despite its attempts at modernism, the Salon remained a conservative venue and while The Floor Scrapers of 1875 was exhibited in the Impressionist show in 1876 it had been rejected by the Salon in the previous year. In addition to its subject matter and artificially enhanced perspective, The Floor Scrapers was called “vulgar” and “leftist” by critics because the painting commutes the nude—a traditional academic subject—into the Impressionist specialty of a modern life subject.
The floor scrapers in the painting are not removing old wax as might be first suspected. Their efforts show them working in a new building where they are preparing the wood by inducing its buckling with water and scraping it smooth.
Gustave Caillebotte, Raboteurs de parquets (The Floor Scrapers), 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm (31.5 × 39.375 in.).
Gustave Caillebotte, Jeune homme jouant du piano (Young man Playing the Piano), 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 166 cm (31.5 x 45.625 in.). Private collection.
Gustave Caillebotte, Déjeuner (Lunch), 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 166 cm (31.5 x 45.625 in.). Private collection.
Sources: Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist, 1995, Anne Distel, editor.
The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, 1986, Charles S. Moffett.
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