These canvases, which for the most part depict the artist’s family and close bourgeois circle, convey a psychological dimension unseen in portraits of the time. After the death of Caillebotte’s father in 1874, the artist received a substantial inheritance. This unforeseen fortune allowed him to take greater stylistic risks, which is very much reflected in the present work. 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 this century shifted toward greater emphasis on psychological insight and broader social commentary. Caillebotte, as both a member of this prosperous social circle and an observer within the group, used his privileged position to capture the nonchalance and ennui of his sitters in a psychologically acute way, breaking down the barrier between sitter and painter.
The present work is a portrait of A. Cassabois, a stockbroker and friend of the Caillebotte family. The work is unique even within Caillebotte’s series of portraits because of its striking, colorful background. The luscious, seemingly abstract arrangement of colors pose a contrast to the urban interiors or darker backgrounds more common in many of the artist’s other portraits. This distinctive choice suggests a close relationship between sitter and painter. The present work’s casual air is heightened by Cassabois’ posture; he is comfortably sitting for the artist, barely posing, legs spread apart and lightly holding a cigarette in one hand, clearly relaxed and at ease.
Cassabois was both a friend and supporter of Caillebotte, owning three other works by the artist. One of these works, Vue de toits, Paris, is a view of Montmartre rooftops painted from the studio rooftop of Édouard Dessommes, a contemporary artist who was an integral part of Caillebotte’s circle and who sat for the artist several times, including in the painting Peintre sous son parasol (see fig. 1). Other portraits of Cassabois by Caillebotte include La Partie de bésigue of 1881, depicting a group of card players in Caillbotte’s apartment on Boulevard Haussman (see fig. 2), in which Cassabois is seated second right, along with Dessommes, Martial Caillebotte and Richard Gallo, other common characters in Caillebotte’s series of unique and groundbreaking portraits.
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