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Tuesday, May 17 • 2:00pm - 2:30pm
(Research and Technical Studies) Out of the rain: Uncovering artistic process in Gustave Caillebotte’s 'Paris Street; Rainy Day'

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Gustave Caillebotte’s 1877 masterpiece “Paris Street; Rainy Day,” a centerpiece of the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection, was treated in 2013-14 and, along with its related preparatory drawing “Study for ‘Paris Street; Rainy Day’,” was given an in-depth examination as part of the Online Scholarly Catalogue “Caillebotte Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago.” These systematic examinations included infrared reflectography (multi-spectral, 960 to 2500 nm, and hyper-spectral, 967 to 1680 nm, 3.4 nm sampling); ultraviolet and transmitted visible and infrared photography; and photomicrography. The painting was also x-rayed and thread-counted, and the ground and pigments analyzed. These investigations led to major discoveries about the artist’s working process, from his initial sketch on the sidewalk of the Rue de Turin in Paris to the execution and finishing of the monumental painting. First, the combined information from the multi and hyperspectral imaging allowed visualization of the stages of underdrawing and painted pentimenti. Most notably, the technical images exposed major changes to the right side of the composition including movement of the far right building and nearby compositional edge, and the addition of the large, rear-facing figure. But that was only part of the story. To begin, the drawn sketch, that first phase of the preparatory drawing, is so accurate in its depiction of the Parisian intersection that scholars have long speculated that Caillebotte employed an optical device. Researching the likely candidates led to collaboration and recreation of this initial step at the original site in Paris, still largely unchanged in its architecture. The most likely culprit proved to be the camera lucida, a small, lightweight drawing aid in use since its development at the turn of the 19th century. Once back at the studio, Caillebotte then clarified the perspective via a set of ruled and re-angled lines, resulting in a regularized architectural skeleton. Comparing careful measurements of the drawing and painting and overlaying high-resolution, scaled images, it is clear that the first stage of underdrawing in the painting is a direct enlargement of the preparatory drawing by a factor of approximately seven. With this answer came another question: how did he do it? There was no discernable grid or obvious method of enlargement. Microscopic indentations in the drawing, and small pinholes in the painting revealed via a high-resolution infrared capture at 2100 to 2500 nm, illuminated a possible method of transfer. A drafting tool such as calipers was used to carefully measure distances on the drawing, leaving small, almost invisible indentations. With a full-size canvas tacked to a studio wall, the enlargement process was recreated, and small tacks, placed along the horizon at strategic points, easily braced a straight edge to enable execution of the major architectural lines in linear perspective as made visible by false color hyperspectral infrared reflectograpy. After the setting was established, Caillebotte populated the scene with figures taken from a number of preparatory drawings and began to paint, constantly adjusting the composition, scraping, covering, rethinking, and repainting, until he reached the dynamic and familiar artistic conclusion.

avatar for Kelly Keegan-[PA]

Kelly Keegan-[PA]

Associate Paintings Conservator, Art Institute of Chicago
Kelly Keegan is currently Assistant Paintings Conservator at the Art Institute of Chicago. She received a BA in Art History from Rutgers University, and an M.A. in Art History and an Advanced Certificate in Conservation from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. Prior... Read More →

avatar for John Delaney

John Delaney

Senior Imaging Scientist, National Gallery of Art
John K. Delaney, Ph.D. is the Senior Imaging Scientist at the National Gallery of Art, where his research focuses on the development and application of remote sensing imaging methods for the study of works of art.

Pablo Garcia

Assistant Professor of Contemporary Practices, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Pablo Garcia is Assistant Professor in Contemporary Practices at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Born in 1975, Garcia was in college when the first internet browser launched. Composite training in traditional analog and then-nascent digital technologies inspired a research... Read More →

Tuesday May 17, 2016 2:00pm - 2:30pm EDT
Room 511 B/E