I was looking through Google images the other day for paintings by the Impressionists and came across the work of Gustave Caillebotte. He is not as famous as some of the others like Monet or Cezanne or Manet, but his work really caught my eye. Why? Because of the strong and sometimes strange compositions.
Take a look at this painting below, Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877), where he seems to break the rules of “good” composition.
As you probably know you should never divide your painting into quarters, but this is exactly what Caillebotte does here. And somehow he makes it work, even though it makes for a slightly unsettling image. He then further subdivides the picture with repeated vertical lines and some very angular triangles. The whole image is a design. It has not happened by accident, but unlike many other artists who worked to a design, he breaks the rules. I suppose his fellow Impressionists were also breaking the rules at that time, but in different ways.
Now look at the painting below, The House Painters (1877), where he keeps to the rules but exaggerates them. Your eye is almost forced to run towards the vanishing point at the end of the road by the strong and unbroken straight lines. And again he has used repeated vertical lines to divide up the image, and added a few of those triangles as well.
Once again in this painting, Le Pont de l’Europe (1876) he has used the same devices – an overpoweringly strong pull towards the vanishing point, repeated verticals and triangles.
And even in this painting, Portraits à la campagne (1876) you can see the same design strategy.
In fact if you look him up on Google images you will find that many of his paintings followed these rules.
So, was he breaking the rules or making new rules?
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!
That’s an interesting blog Andy, it does make you re-evaluate the “rules” and encourages a rethink on what you think you know. You perhaps don’t remember me but you awarded my painting of Ella in the kitchen first prize (many years ago) and from that, I won your Drawing course – thanks for teaching me to draw and also for making me realise that techniques can be learned and that you don’t have to be “gifted” (thankfully !!!). One day I hope to get back to art but in the meantime, I’m enjoying reading stuff like this. Take care.
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Viv, thanks very much for your comments, and I’m so pleased that you found the article interesting. I had completely forgotten about the drawing prize from many years ago, but well done for winning it! Maybe I need to get back to setting more competitions in the future!