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  • Writer's pictureAhmed

Caillebotte and Vintage Workwear

Updated: May 6

When we buy and sell antique and vintage clothes we try to take as much care as we can over provenance. Like all online stores we have to be trusted and any long term business should be built on a basis of honesty.

This can be difficult with antique clothes. Often there is no label to work with so we have to judge using material, shape, cut and style. In doing this online photo depositories are a goldmine, for example this forum with postcards of lit-clos also has plenty of images of peoples clothes and there are more general ones here and here. France has a rich visual heritage which we can easily dive into.

We like to see what we can find in other media too. We are both fond of the painter Gustave Caillebotte. You may not be familiar with the name but the chances are you'll know some of his work. Perhaps this one from 1877, Paris street Rainy Day.

(via Wikipedia)

Born into a wealthy family in 1848, Caillebotte trained to be an engineer but became interested in painting and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1874 he inherited his father's fortune and became a man of independent means. He met Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet the same year and showed his works at the Impressionist exhibition of 1876 and those afterwards. Some of his work was influenced by Impressionism, some by Realism. He was known for his interest in photography too. Some of his work was considered 'vulgar' as he didn't paint nature or pretty landscapes with peasants or heroic romantic canvases. Instead, he painted everyday, quotidian often urban things which in the late 19th century was controversial. One of our favourites, Les Raboteurs of 1875 which was considered so vulgar by the Impressionist Salon that year it was refused exhibition.

Another favourite of mine is from the same year, Jeune homme à sa fenêtre

This is Caillebotte himself in a photo of 1862:

A handsome chap in a fantastic coat! The photo, taken by his brother Martial, bears similar qualities to the painting, don't you think? The perspective, the light...

In 1881 Caillebotte acquired a property outside of Paris. He ceased showing his work at age 34 and devoted himself to gardening and to building and racing yachts, and he spent much time with Martial, and his friend Auguste Renoir. By this stage he was better known as a patron of the arts, supporting a number of artists notably Monet, Renoir and Pissarro. His own work was often disregarded, with Caillebotte himself having to buy it back after exhibiting.

He died aged 45 and became a footnote in Impressionist art history. After his death Caillebotte donated his own collection of paintings by his friends, including his Monets, Renoirs, Pissarros to the French state, which famously rejected one-third of it.

Interest in his work revived when the family began to sell their collection in the late 20th century. Paris Street Rainy Day was acquired by Walter P. Chrysler Jr. in 1955, who in turn sold it to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1964. The painting is one of many featured in the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off in scenes shot in the Art Institute.

The sudden interest prompted renewed scholarship. Much of Caillebotte's own work is in private collections with surprisingly little held by large galleries but exhibitions have become more frequent in the few decades. And of course the Caillebotte bequest now forms an important part of the Musée d’Orsay’s collection of Impressionist paintings, including Renoir’s Moulin de la Galette and Edouard Manet’s Balcony.

However, there are a couple of Caillebottes from the 1870s worth paying closer attention to. Here's Le Pont de l'Europe:

In many ways it's a typical Caillebotte- urban scene, late Impressionist style, strong composition.... apart from the people and the dog, there's not a single natural object in the painting. The plunging perspective is just buildings and smoke. His style is apparent- it's halfway between Impressionism and Realism. None of the swirling colours or optical effects of Monet or Renoir and instead a strange almost misty flat light. You'll notice the man on the right pondering his existence. We'll come back to him in moment. Here's The House Painters from 1877:

Again, more men pondering. A painting of painters. But instead of bourgeois painters like Caillebotte himself, these are tradesmen, working men studying their labour on a wine merchant's store. What interested us most is was what the figures are wearing.

It's quite rare to see normal everyday workers in pre-20th century art so for that alone these paintings are interesting from an antiques dealers point of view! The workers here are dressed in what seem to be white coats over shirts with ties. This is 19th century workwear. The men are wearing what would eventually evolve into the chore coat, like this. At this stage it was still a loose cotton/linen smock that probably went over 'regular' clothes, like this military version or this artist's chemise. Occasionally we come across very rare dark blue versions which were more rural.

There are loads of reasons to love Caillebotte but it's fun for us to be able to bring our work to it to. The paintings are, of course, already great but it also makes the process of dating items a bit more interesting for us!

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