Monday, September 19, 2011

MFA to sell 8 paintings for 1 big fat gay Caillebotte

Gustave Caillebotte's Man at His Bath (1884)
News broke today that the MFA will de-accession some eight works (including a Monet, Degas, and Gauguin) to purchase Man at His Bath, by Gustave Caillebotte (at left), for a price of around $17 million.

I suppose the purchase will be controversial (the Monet that's being sold is a nice one, although the MFA has another much like it) - partly, I think, because the Caillebotte is still a slightly shocking image: a rudely vigorous male plunked down into what's structured as a Degas-style reverie.  Actually, I'll go a little further - the image is shocking because it's so gay.  It presents male nakedness as a precise equivalent to the softcore tease at the heart of a zillion French domestic scenes (and so slyly destabilizes the hetero-centrist context of a good chunk of Impressionism).  The guy is practically rough trade, his butt is center stage, and Caillebotte even teases us with the silhouette of his scrotum.  It's all gayer than Cher's mascara, but at the same time it's as masculine as a Bruins game - a combination that, frankly, the straight population struggles with much more than it does with queeny types like Michele Bachmann's husband.

So, as I'm sure you have guessed, I think it's pretty cool that the MFA is purchasing it, and to my mind the price is justified (if such prices are ever justified, that is).  The museum already has a half-dozen sun-splashed Monets, after all, but Man at His Bath is nearly unique in the Impressionist catalog, and it's of high sociological interest as well.

Was he gay?  Obviously.
For gay men have long thought of Caillebotte (at right, a self-portrait) as the "gay Impressionist" - many straight art connoisseurs might quibble with that "gay" appellation, because of course we have no definitive proof of which way the life-long bachelor swung (if he swung at all); but frankly I'd quibble more with the "Impressionist" part of "gay Impressionist;"  I know Caillebotte initially was shown with Monet and the gang, but to me he floats in some sphere of his own, between Monet, Degas - and photography (his signature view is a panorama in which perspective falls away vertiginously).  But as for being gay - yeah, he always seemed delicately alienated to me in a way that the rest of the Impressionists aren't, and which always read to me as queer.  And it's nice to see a queer edge make itself known at the MFA - at least implicitly - after decades and decades of quiet suppression. So here's to our $17 million piece of rough trade!  It's a lot to pay, but he's worth it.


  1. As long as they hang it next to Sargent's nude study of Thomas McKeller, it's fine by me.

  2. I know - another hottie! We're so bad. ;-)