One Piece at a Time

A fresh take on Caillebotte

Brooklyn Henke revisits Caillebotte's "Boaters on the Yerres" for One Piece at a Time.

By - Jul 27th, 2012 10:38 am
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Caillebotte’s “Boaters on the Yerres,” from the permanent collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum.on.

Go to an art museum, pick a work, stand before it for a long time. Tell us what you see. TCD’s One Piece at a Time series began with that thought in the summer of 2010. TCD senior editor Tom Strini handled the One-Piece duties then and in 2011. This summer, we have a variation. In the winter and spring, Strini worked with a class of graduate students in art at UWM. They did the One Piece drill at the Milwaukee Art Museum, wrote draft essays, then survived a writer’s boot camp with Strini. We’re publishing the results, one piece at a time.

Brooklyn Henke chose Boating on the Yerres, which has a history with One Piece at a Time. Not to mention history with the Green Bay Packers, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Carnegie Museum.

Boating on the Yerres, by French artist Gustave Caillebotte, quietly dominates the gallery in which it hangs. The painting exudes both a quiet peace and the echo of thousand ripples on the surface of the river.

The three men boat down the river at different rhythms as their paddles touch the surface of the water. Each man wears a white, long-sleeve shirt, which reflects the blue of the river. Each wears a hat. The man in the lead boat faces forward; the other two look down. On the land beyond the boaters, the grasses of the riverbank glow green and rich with summer. The river and the brush echo back and forth, the rich tones a vibrato on the composition. It seems to be mid afternoon. The sky, barely blue with drifts of white clouds across it, juxtaposes the lush and saturated leaves of the trees lining the riverbank and forest in the distance. Each man seems to be deep in thought and a part of the river, boat and paddle.

While the painting is rich in color and its sentiment is peaceful, it is also meticulously planned with precise perspective. The paint is thick and full, yet specific. A strong diagonal cuts through the center of the painting where water meets land. The trees form a grid, and the reflections of the trees wobble in the horizontal ripples in the water. The color is mostly cool, with hints of orange on the boats and through the grasses on the riverbank, causing a bouncing gestalt throughout the piece. Boating on the Yerres, of the Impressionist era, is both luscious and precise. The gesture of the water and the men gliding along is clear; the water and the air, heavy in the heart of summer, flow from the painting.

Previously on the summer of 2012 One Piece at a Time Series: Joe Grennier on Warhol’s Brillo Box; Eric Roman Beining on Torso of a Male Athlete; Aneesha Baldeosingh on Jules Olitski’s Heat Resistance.



0 thoughts on “One Piece at a Time: A fresh take on Caillebotte”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Family Connections: Did you know…

    That in 1860, Gustave’s father, Martial, bought the property at Yerres for a meager 136,000 francs (plus about 9K francs in fees) from the estate sale of Anne Marie (née Gaudin) Biennais who died in 1859. One daughter of Madame Biennais, Adrienne, married Jules Pinçon de Valpincon. Jules was a 2nd cousin of Martial Caillebotte, and a 1st cousin of Martial’s first wife, Adéle Zoé Boissière. Paul Pinçon de Valpinçon, lifelong friend of Edgar Degas, was a 3rd cousin of Gustave Cailebotte, and through whom Degas and Caillebotte met.

    Jules Pinçon de Valpinçon’s father was my 2nd great-grand uncle, as was Paul Pinçon de Valpinçon’s father, Augustin René. Their sister, Marie, was my 2nd great-grandmother. They were, along with their other siblings, 1st cousins of Gustave Caillebotte’s grandmother, Adelaïde Françoise (née Féron) Caillebotte. Augustin René Pinçon de Valpinçon first purchased the Chateau Menil-Hubert in December 1822. This Chateau, where his grandson Paul Valpnçon’s lifelong friend, Edgar Degas, would visit until Degas’ death on 27 Sep 1917, remained in our family until 1974. The studio where Degas painted is still intact.

    The Biennais/Caillebotte property in Yerres is 11 hectares (about 27 acres). The Chateau Menil-Hubert sits on 85 hectares, but was originally over 120 hectares (about 296 acres).

    Adrienne (née Biennais) Pinçon de Valpinçon’s father was Martin Guillaume Biennais, who created the crown jewels for Napoleon Bonaparte, which now sit in the Notre Dame Cathedral.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks so much for your comment, Andy. — Strini

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