The J. Paul Getty Museum acquired at auction in New York on Thursday Young Man at His Window, 1876, regarded as the most important painting by French Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte (French, 1848–1894) in private hands.
The large-scale figure painting, widely considered a masterpiece of modern realism and a key moment in the history of Impressionism, will go on view at the Getty Center Museum in 2022.
“We expect Caillebotte’s Young Man at His Window to become a new standout in our popular Impressionist gallery,” said Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “This extraordinary painting exemplifies Caillebotte’s carefully constructed and sharp-edged brand of urban realism—so distinct from the informal landscape aesthetic of artists like Monet and Renoir—and will allow us to present to our public a fuller picture of the art associated with the Impressionist movement.”
Young Man at His Window represents a pivotal moment in Caillebotte’s early career. He exhibited it to acclaim at the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876, when he was 27 years old. It was his public debut as a painter, and among his submissions this painting received the most critical acclaim, after his famous The Floor Scrapers (1875, Musée d’Orsay, Paris).
Young Man at His Window is the culminating work in an early trio of domestic interior scenes featuring his immediate family, the other two being Young Man Playing the Piano (1876; Artizon Museum, Tokyo), depicting his brother Martial; and Luncheon (1876; private collection), depicting his brother René, their widowed mother, and a servant. Caillebotte showcased all three as part of his debut at the 1876 Impressionist exhibition, along with Floor Scrapers.
The painting depicts a young man in a dark suit, modeled by the artist’s brother René, standing at a large open window in the Caillebotte family’s well-appointed upper-story apartment in Paris. With his back to the viewer, his feet planted firmly apart and hands in his pockets, he looks out at a sun-drenched street scene tightly framed by tall apartment blocks. A cushiony red satin armchair in the right foreground suggests he has been sitting at this window for some time, and that he has been suddenly roused. His attention seems fixed on a lone woman crossing the street below, who, despite her small scale, is so insistently framed by the painting’s plunging perspective that viewers have been riveted ever since.
“With dramatic lighting, painstaking execution, and a highly original composition that brilliantly conjoins domestic interior and Paris street scene, Young Man at His Window is an acknowledged masterpiece from the most inventive period of Caillebotte’s career,” says Scott Allan, curator of paintings at the Getty Museum. “Caillebotte’s painting represented the most innovative form of modern urban realism in the mid-1870s. Such realism was a key ingredient of the broader “Impressionist” project, particularly among the most ambitious figure painters of the independent exhibition group, and it anticipated by many decades, as scholars have recognized, important developments in photography and cinema. Young Man at His Window remains a bracingly modern work, one whose visual acuity is matched by its psychological tension and ambiguity.”
Fascinating viewers since its debut, the painting has featured prominently in nearly every major Caillebotte retrospective since 1894. It has been extensively discussed and reproduced in scholarly literature.