Friday, June 8, 2007

Gustave Caillebotte: "The Man on the Balcony"

These two works present similar subject matter, yet the one on the left does it in a strictly impressionistic style, while its counterpart involves Caillebotte's trademark cocktail of painting techniques. The former once again demonstrates that impressionism is not Caillebotte's forte. Though the perspective and the immediacy of city life are conveyed convincingly - as always, the background benefits - the leaning figure of the man is static, and the light effects are dubious: the smudging of the facial features and the balcony (more different colors!) does not appear artistically justified. The air was probably clear at that height, which should have rendered the eyes visible. It is as if the artist was led by a formula, instead of relying on inner instinct that would guide him to make correct decisions. It is obvious that Gustave Caillebbotte lacked that impressionistic instinct, or lacked it in its fullest and purest form. However, he does employ it with much more success in another similarly named piece.

In the painting on the right we see the back of the man: he is half turning towards the viewer, as if giving a last glance at the street, before turning towards the interior. The positioning (and the realistic depiction) of his arms and legs gives the satisfying illusion of movement. The far background lends to the feeling of intimacy by way of contrast; this man peeks from the inside to the outside - he does not participate as his neighbor does. Even though there might be something sentimental about this scene, it is more convincing, because it is consistent with the painter's style and shows maturity and control.

I have to add, however, that there's something tempting about the former work - perhaps it is the risk taken or maybe the detached and desolate sensation passed on by the open aerial angle (unlike in the framed balcony on the right) - perhaps Caillebbotte's conception still works, despite lacking clear definition.

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