A Welcome Reassessment of Caillebotte
To the Editor:
This is to thank you for Jim Van Buskirk’s essay, “Straightwashing Gustave Caillebotte,” in the March-April 2023 issue. I was privileged at age eleven (in 1965) to see Paris Street, Rainy Day at the Art Institute of Chicago. I fell deeply in love. Each time the family went to the A.I.C, I would sit and look at the painting for as long as my parents would allow. I was a budding artist and a budding lesbian. I remember being enthralled with the man in the foreground, the swing of his hips, the details in the clothing. I remember thinking the woman in the dark coat was uninteresting.
Years later, I was in San Francisco and went to the Impressionist exhibit that Mr. Van Buskirk discussed, where I saw The Floor Scrapers for the first time—also huge, also incredible. My first thought was that Caillebotte must have been gay. I got Kirk Varnedoe’s book on Caillebotte (1987) and scoured it for information, but of course it wasn’t very forthcoming about the many paintings of men, despite the fact that most of the Impressionists loved painting women. So why wasn’t anyone talking about Caillebotte’s fascination with men? Take his Portrait of Paul Hugo—how could anyone fail to see the emotional investment that the painter clearly had in his subject?
So, I felt a little prescient when I read The G&LR article and it supported my early suspicions about this amazing artist.
Rebecca Jensen, Oakland CA
To the Editor:
I enjoyed Jim Van Buskirk’s piece on Gustave Caillebotte. I think any gay man looking at The Floor Scrapers would immediately feel a kinship with the creator of this painting. In contrast, Caillebotte’s Nude on a Couch, showing a female nude covering her face with her arm and her breast with a hand strikes me as the opposite of erotic. I find the treatment of the pattern of the material on the couch more interesting than the nude. The painting is in Minneapolis, where I saw Caillebotte’s most famous painting, Paris Street, Rainy Day, in 1969. At the time, I wondered: “Who is this painter, and why have I never heard of him?”
David Brin, Sonoma, CA
Sargent Isn’t So Hard to Figure Out
To the Editor:
Regarding Andrew Holleran’s essay, “The Inscrutable John Singer Sargent” (March-April 2023), I wonder why he finds the artist’s sexuality to be “inscrutable.” Since when is a smoking gun necessary to come to a logical conclusion?
Sargent died almost a hundred years ago and lived at a time when homosexuality was considered a grievous crime. Any indication that a person had same-sex attractions could destroy their reputation, so it’s no wonder Sargent was circumspect. The incident involving Madame X is proof that he hated negative publicity and was reluctant to share his private life, even with close associates.
Still, he couldn’t resist choosing subject matter that could have landed him in big trouble. However respectable his public image, he kept pushing the envelope in his sensual portrayals of male subjects, such as his portrait Dr. Pozzi at Home. His homoerotic interests are also evident in his studies of nude males, which he kept in his possession and were only discovered after his death. Even then, it took almost a hundred years for art historians to acknowledge their homoerotic character, something that a few experts are unwilling to accept even today.
Jeffrey Paszko, Haverhill, MA