Paris Street: Rainy Day Makes Big Impression at Art Institute of Chicago

Paris Street: Rainy Day Makes Big Impression at Art Institute of Chicago
Gustave Caillebotte, French. Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877. The Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection.

One of the top ten most popular paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris Street; Rainy Day” (1877), will be unveiled to the public today after what can only be described as a metamorphosis.

The large oil painting, which was removed from the walls of the AIC last October for what at the time was thought to be a minor facelift/restoration/clean-up by conservator Faye Wrubel, has literally been transformed.

The perennial visitor favorite–since it joined the collection in the 1960s—shows the (then) new boulevards of Paris and the modern, fashion-conscious crowd attempting to stay dry. Now the restoration has shed new light on this old favorite by uncovering an even more masterful masterpiece along with the original intent of Caillebotte.

The painstaking restoration process involved the use of x-ray, infrared, and ultraviolet analyses that uncovered a layer of paint over the sky that had been added in a previous restoration–masking the sky and making it duller.  After examining the ultraviolet photos along with painted sketches, Wrubel came to the conclusion that the sky was more complex than had originally been thought.

As Wrubel removed the old yellowed varnish a lighter, brighter painting came alive. The skies became bluer and more dynamic, the darkness lifted exposing a brightness that Wrubel described as “almost like the rain is ending and the sun is about to break from the clouds.”

The restoration also exposed other details. The earring, worn by the central female figure in the painting, was originally thought to be a pearl–but now–after the restoration, it appears to be a diamond.

The significance of the restoration, in addition to adding depth and light to the painting, also has art historians re-evaluating the place of Caillebotte in art history making the artist more likely to be viewed as a bona fide Impressionist.

The conserved work has created a lot of excitement and buzz from all who have seen it. Now it is ready for it’s public debut.

Starting today, “Paris Street; Rainy Day” will be back on the walls in its old familiar home in Gallery 201 at the AIC for all to view it in a new light.

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