Ernest Roman, Lyon (brother of the above; acquired from the above)
Private Collection (by descent from the above)
Private Collection (acquired circa 1997)
Acquired by the present owner in 2008
Tokyo, Bridgestone Museum of Art, Ishibashi Foundation, Gustave Caillebotte, Impressionist in Modern Paris, 2013, no. 12, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art & Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Gustave Caillebotte. The Painter's Eye, 2015-16, no. 22, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Discussing this group of paintings Karin Sagner acknowledges them as among the artist’s most important works: ‘His sitters were mostly men, seated in an armchair, reclining on a sofa, or standing at a window: thinking, reading, daydreaming. In their totality, these portraits come across as a pictorial plumbing of the role of man in society. Caillebotte, for whom the isolated female portrait played a comparatively peripheral role, thus made a unique contribution to the body of Impressionist painting’ (ibid., pp. 27-28).
These canvases, which are mostly portraits of fellow artists, friends or acquaintances, are strikingly modern in approach. Whereas portraiture of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century had often been a means of flattering the sitter and conveying social status, the latter half of the century saw a shift that placed greater emphasis on psychological insight and broader social commentary. Whilst his portraits conform to this, they also reveal the distinctive perception of the world that distinguished Caillebotte from his contemporaries. In paintings such as Portrait de Richard Gallo or Portrait de Monsieur R. (figs. 1 & 2) the artist shows his subjects recumbent and apparently unoccupied, capturing a sense of the ennui that was then fashionable among the bourgeois classes. At the same time, however, he makes an innovative play between sitter (as subject) and background, in which the sitter is subsumed into the overall decorative pattern in a manner that anticipates Matisse’s use of the same conceit in his portraits of women (fig. 3).
Portrait de Georges Roman reveals a similarly imaginative treatment of the portrait genre. Georges Roman (1839-1919) was a Lyonnais artist who worked briefly in Paris where he met both Caillebotte and Pissarro. In a family memoir written by his nephew Frédéric, Roman is described as being of delicate health and always cold; in this insightful portrait Caillebotte captures something of this fragility as well as a sense of the reserved forbearance that often distinguishes the perpetually ill of health. This interest in his subject’s psyche is, however, secondary to the artist’s overall vision for the composition. Whilst his handling of paint is vividly Impressionist, the arrangement of the central figure and the play of light across the composition are the more startlingly modern elements of the painting. Caillebotte, like many of his contemporaries, was keenly interested in the development of photography and amassed a large collection of photographs. This influence can be felt in his development of unusual and innovative points of view, such as the use of close up that is seen in the present work as well as both Portrait de Richard Gallo and Portrait de Monsieur R. (figs. 1 & 2).
Caillebotte also had a particularly acute awareness of light and shadow that was suggestively photographic in application. In Portrait de Georges Roman he takes this to an extreme; the figure is cast almost into darkness with one side of his face obscured in shadow in an interplay of light and dark that inclines towards the monochromatic. There is an expressive aspect to this use of light which might explain why the young Edvard Munch was so attracted to Caillebotte’s work when he visited Paris in 1889 and may well have had an influence on his own painting (fig. 4). It also marks Portrait de Georges Roman as one of Caillebotte’s most intriguing portraits and illustrates the important role he played not only among the Impressionists but also for future generations of artists.
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