Gustave Caillebotte at the Brooklyn Museum
It would be odd to describe the richest Impressionist as the Cinderella of that movement, but Gustave Caillebotte has always been its sleeper. His wealth, perhaps, was to blame: a passionate yachtsman, he seemed as happy on the sea as painting it. In acknowledgement, an entire wall in this two room show is given over to sleek wooden models of boats after the master’s designs. The exhibition keenly misses the key loans that would give it a definitive air, such as The Parquet Floor Strippers from the Museé d’Orsay or Paris Street, A Rainy Day in the Art Institute of Chicago, but an appropriately minor show for a minor artist can still pack gems, such as this smaller study of floor scrapers. In their absorption and sweaty exertions they surely constitute an iconic depiction of labor, comparable in astuteness of observation to Courbet’s stonecutters and Velázquez’s spinners. Equaling its social insight is the picture’s value as a painting about painting, in the way the stripped veneer accentuates a sense of surface that is at once literal and metaphorical.
This was an artcritical PIC in June 2009