The present work is one of only two known paintings that Caillebotte executed on the subject of Parc Monceau (fig. 2), a public garden located near the artist’s home on rue de Miromesnil, in the eighth arrondissement
of Paris. In the present version, Caillebotte has depicted the park on a bright spring day, using short, quick brushstrokes to render its lush undergrowth and to explore the play of light and shadow on the shrubs and around the benches. Commissioned by the Duke of Orléans, Parc Monceau was designed in the style of the English garden in the second half of the eighteenth century. Originally a private garden, it was converted into a public park under Baron Haussmann, and opened to the public in 1861. Caillebotte, labelled by a major retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London as the ‘urban Impressionist’, found in the park a great subject to paint, as it combined his love of nature with that of the city.
Julia Sagraves wrote about this subject-matter in the work of both Caillebotte and Monet (fig. 3): ‘At the same time that they were painting and exhibiting pictures of the area around Gare Saint-Lazare, Caillebotte and his friend Monet appear also to have shared an interest in another very different kind of urban space: the public city garden, and, in particular, Parc Monceau. The park was located only blocks away from where Caillebotte lived throughout most of the 1870s. It was originally laid out in the eighteenth century as a private, picturesque garden. During the French Revolution, it was declared the property of the State, but in the ensuing decades it continued to pass in and out of private ownership, while also falling into general disrepair and disuse. It was only during the Second Empire, when the State firmly reclaimed and restored it, that Parc Monceau became “one of the most agreeable promenades in Paris”' (J. Sagraves in Gustave Caillebotte: The Unknown Impressionist
(exhibition catalogue), op. cit
., p. 81).
Throughout the 1870s, Caillebotte and Monet often chose to paint similar subjects, particularly views of Paris and its environs. Caillebotte, whose family belonged to the affluent grande bourgeoisie
, also provided financial support to Monet during this time, and acquired several of Monet’s paintings for his collection. Writing about the present work, Julia Sagraves observed that it ‘recalls Monet in both its brushwork and composition. However, Caillebotte’s image resembles not so much Monet’s own views of the park, but instead his Apartment Interior
[fig. 4], which Caillebotte owned at the time. In both works, a wide, smooth passageway (garden path, floor), tipped dramatically forward, cuts through the centre of the picture. At the end of this corridor stands a solitary, strangely diminished, indistinct figure, encased and nearly overwhelmed by the surrounding plant life. In depicting Parc Monceau in this manner, Caillebotte likened the space of his neighbourhood garden to private interior space, at once comforting and menacing’ (ibid
., p. 81).
Unlike Monet, whose depictions of the Parc Monceau focused on its social aspect, with groups of fashionably dressed men, women and children (fig. 3), Caillebotte chose to represent a more solitary vision of the park, centred around the gently curving line of the path, and the lush greenery that closes above it, almost creating the illusion of an interior space. While the plants and trees appear to be carefully designed, their wild growth dominates the composition, towering over the small figure of a man who walks down the path towards the viewer. Although executed in a few sketchy brushstrokes, the man, wearing a grey suit and a hat, can be identified as a Parisian gentleman. Furthermore, the meticulously aligned shrubs and grass alleys and the rhythmically spaced benches give the scene its air of urban environment, while at the same time creating a vibrant, dynamic composition.