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Considering Caillebotte: Hollis Clayson

Portrait of Richard Gallo

Gustave Caillebotte, Portrait of Richard Gallo, 1881, oil on canvas, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust through the generosity of Mrs. George C. Reuland through the W.J. Brace Charitable Trust and through exchange of the bequests of Mr. and Mrs. William James Brace and Frances Logan; the gifts of Harold Woodbury Parsons, Mr. and Mrs. Henry W. Bloch, and the Laura Nelson Kirkwood Residuary Trust; and other Trust properties.

I processed Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye more or less involuntarily. Insights weren’t hunted down; they arose. What stands out after ten days delivers a surprise commensurate with the overall oddness of the painter’s achievement. It was not his perennially fascinating Paris machines that kept me thinking. The contrasting but penetrating saliencies of one LOUD portrait and one QUIET landscape managed instead to excavate new channels in my aesthetic memory. Portrait of Richard Gallo is a tense and almost impossibly vivid encounter between a bourgeois male sitter as tightly coiled as a snake and a riotously uncanny couch fashioned in acid colors and bearing an alarmingly variegated surface and awkward shape. My thoughts also return to The Yerres, Effect of Rain, a work in an entirely different key. The subtlety of its mood, the restraint of its tonal balance and earth-colored palette, the elegance of its geometricized composition (with its convincingly reconciled frontality and diagonal recession), the striking beauty of its delicately calibrated pea-green water, and the poignancy of its illusion of raindrops making ovoid circles on the surface of the Yerres add up to an altogether wonderful painting.

 

Hollis Clayson
Professor of Art History, Northwestern University