Iain Gale on exhibitions

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Think of Impressionism and what comes to mind? A field full of poppies? Haystacks shimmering in the sunshine? Light playing on the facade of Rouen Cathedral? Now visit the Royal Academy and discover what Impressionism was really about.

The small exhibition devoted to the work of Gustave Caillebotte, "the unknown Impressionist", is among the most important shows the RA has presented over the last decade. Caillebotte, whose name may not be familiar, was one of the original band of Impressionist painters who broke into the French art world in the mid-1870s. Originally a follower of Degas, he quickly developed his own idiosyncratic style - concentrating on the life of the streets in the newly reconstructed Paris of Baron Haussmann.

With an acute eye for detail and an inspired use of perspective and aerial viewpoint, Caillebotte became the exemplar of the original Impressionist intention to capture the moment. His Le Pont de l'Europe (below left), a seductive and compelling vignette of the new city, is arguably among the most important works in 19th-century art.

Caillebotte was a rich man and, dying young, aged 45 in 1894, he left his own collection of the paintings of his friends to the French nation. Originally housed in the Jeu de Paume, they now form the core of the collection in the Musee d'Orsay. It is for this generosity that the artist has been remembered for the last century. In effect, his beneficence has obscured his own talent. We should be grateful to the Royal Academy for setting the record straight at last.

Royal Academy, Piccadilly, London (0171-439 7438) to 23 Jun

Comments