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Les Jardiniers

Les Jardiniers
oil on canvas
35 1/4 x 45 7/8 in. (89.6 x 116.8 cm.)
Painted in Yerres circa 1877
Jean Baptiste Matthieu Daurelle, Paris (by 1893, then by descent).
Galerie Brame et Lorenceau, Paris (acquired from the above, 1994).
Jean-Paul Guerlain, France (acquired from the above, 1995).
Private collection, United Kingdom (acquired from the above).
Waring Hopkins, Paris.
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 2001).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 8 May 2002.
P. Wittmer, Caillebotte au jardin: La période d'Yerres, 1860-1879, Saint-Remy-en-L'Eau, 1990, pp. 70, 77 and 133-135, no. 12 (details illustrated in color, pp. 122-123 and 135; titled Yerres, au jardin potager: Jardiniers distribuant l'eau aux plantes and dated circa 1876-1877).
M. Berhaut and S. Pietri, Gustave Caillebotte: Catalogue raisonné des peintures et pastels, Paris, 1994, p. 102, no. 80 (illustrated).
F. Friedrich and S. Wuhrmann, Caillebotte: Au cœur de l'impressionnisme, exh. cat., Foundation de l'Hermitage, Lausanne, 2005, pp. 63-64 (illustrated, p. 64, fig. 1).
K. Sagner, Gustave Caillebotte: Neue Perspektiven des Impressionismus, Munich, 2009, p. 149, no. 78 (illustrated in color; dated 1875-1877).
(possibly) C.A.P. Willsdon, Impressionist Gardens, London, 2010, pp. 91-92 (titled Yerres, in the Kitchen Garden, Gardeners Water Plants and dated before 1879).
M. Bocquillon et al., Caillebotte: Peintre et jardinier, exh. cat., Musée des impressionnistes, Giverny, 2016, pp. 22-23 (illustrated in color, p. 23, fig. 4).
M. Marrinan, Gustave Caillebotte: Painting the Paris of Naturalism, 1872-1887, 2016, Los Angeles, pp. 153-154 (illustrated in color, p. 153, fig. 67; dated circa 1876).
Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais; The Art Institute of Chicago and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gustave Caillebotte, September 1994-September 1995, p. 112, no. 20 (illustrated in color, p. 113; dated circa 1875-1877).
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Further details
The Comité Caillebotte has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Exhibited publicly only once in the past century and a half, Gustave Caillebotte’s Les Jardiniers is a celebrated early example of the artist’s garden compositions, which was rediscovered in the 1990s, having remained in the same family collection for over a hundred years. Painted in 1877, the scene depicts the well-appointed kitchen garden at the Caillebotte family’s country home in the village of Yerres, about 20 kilometers southwest of Paris. The artist was a teenager when his parents acquired the property as a summer residence, drawn by the grand, Neo-Classical style house and extensive grounds that stretched down to the banks of the nearby river Yerres. Contemporary descriptions of the estate mention that the park was “planted with large and beautiful trees both indigenous and exotic,” while the artist’s numerous depictions of the property feature an array of boxed orange trees, exquisitely designed flower beds and well maintained rosebushes (quoted in A. Distel et al., Gustave Caillebotte, Urban Impressionist, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 1995, p. 56). The resplendent grounds were transformed each year by the colorful displays of perennial blooms, shrubbery and floral displays created by the team of gardeners that presided over the estate, their wealth of experience ensuring the landscape came to life through the seasons.
In Les Jardiniers, the artist turned his attention to the work that went into the estate’s impeccably maintained kitchen garden, focusing on two gardeners as they diligently water the bourgeoning plants. Described in the 1860s as a “beautiful kitchen garden, with numerous espaliers and broad lawn behind,” this walled space was devoted to the cultivation of vegetables, fruit and herbs and arranged in a carefully ordered design that aimed to achieve the best growing conditions for a variety of species (ibid., p. 56). Caillebotte includes a number of objects and accoutrements in the present canvas that point to the highly skilled horticultural practices that took place in the garden, from the bell-like glass cloches used to cultivate melons, to the small glazed chests with sloping rooves glimpsed amid the far beds designed to maintain the temperature of delicate plants, and the series of espaliers along the interior walls, fitted with carefully rendered trellises and iron wires to accommodate fruit trees, from pears to peaches. Each object was deployed at certain times of year to encourage germination and facilitate growth, protecting against unpredictable weather or ensuring optimum conditions so that the plants would flourish. Combining age-old traditions with the latest scientific developments, these tools highlight the skill and planning that went into achieving the abundant summer growth that filled the garden each year, supplying the family’s table with a sumptuous array of produce, while also providing Caillebotte with seasonal subjects for many of the exquisite still lifes of fruit and vegetables he painted during these years.
Here, Caillebotte focuses not on the garden at its summer peak, but rather a point earlier in the growing season, perhaps late springtime, as the lettuce plants and beans begin to make their appearance, filling the walled garden with color and new life. The scene is bathed in a bright, even light that grows more intense towards the top left corner of the composition, casting warm sunshine on the two gardeners as they tend to the furrows of neatly spaced plants. Beneath their feet, the soil shifts from terracotta to tones of soft mauve and deep red as it soaks up the water from the gardener’s cans, the loose organic spread of the water offering a visual contrast to the exacting symmetry and linearity of the rest of the scene. Beyond the pale walls, a rhythmic row of poplar trees stand tall in the parkland, their diagonal band of verdant green foliage continuing the linear patterns of the kitchen garden and suggesting the deeply receding space of the parklands and lawn outside this sheltered space.
By focusing on this everyday task of feeding the plants, Caillebotte lends a distinct theatricality to the rhythms and ordinary activities of life in Yerres, celebrating the toil and manual labor of the professional gardeners, which often went unacknowledged by those enjoying the splendor of the garden. As such, Les Jardiniers may be seen as a pendant to the artist’s depictions of floor scrapers and sign-painters in Paris during the 1870s, offering a similarly cool, observational look at skilled workers in the middle of their workday, as they diligently completed their tasks. Though Pierre Wittmer suggested that the figures may portray the artist’s two brothers, Martial and René, it appears more likely that they are professional gardeners, employed by the family to maintain the estate grounds throughout the year. They wear matching uniforms, the color of their blue overalls echoed in the strip of material that wraps around their sunhats, the sleeves of their white tunics rolled up to the elbow. Remaining barefoot as they water the young plants, in order to avoid crushing or disturbing the soil around the furrows, the two men remain unaware of the painter’s presence, working in disciplined partnership, carrying out their task with a clear focus and efficiency.
Les Jardiniers is a key example of Caillebotte’s bold approach to naturalism during these years, which shaped his reputation as a thoroughly modern chronicler of life. In his seminal essay, La nouvelle peinture, the critic Edmond Duranty applauded Caillebotte’s revolutionary vision, which he believed successfully removed “the partition separating the studio from everyday life …” (La nouvelle peinture, reproduced in L. Nochlin, ed., Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, 1874-1904: Sources and Documents, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1966, p. 5). In Duranty’s opinion, “It was necessary to make the painter leave his sky-lighted cell, his cloister where he was in contact with the sky alone, and to bring him out among men, into the world” (ibid., p. 5). With works such as Les Jardiniers, Caillebotte roots us firmly in the quiet rhythms of ordinary life, eschewing anecdote and sentiment in favor of a clear-eyed look at the skill, knowledge and hard work that lay behind the spectacular landscapes and gardens that drew the eye of his fellow Impressionists.

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