Les raboteurs de parquet, Gustave Caillebotte - 1875
Les raboteurs de parquet (English title: The Floor Scrapers) is an oil painting by French impressionist Gustave Caillebotte. The canvas measures 102 by 146.5 centimetres (40 in × 57.7 in). It was originally gifted by Caillebotte’s family in 1894 to the Musée du Luxembourg, then transferred to the Musée du Louvre in 1929. In 1947, it was moved to the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, and in 1986, it was transferred again to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where it is currently displayed.
Painted in 1875, this work illustrates Caillebotte’s continued interest in perspective and everyday life. In the scene, the observer stands above three workers on hands and knees, scraping a wooden floor in a bourgeois apartment—now believed to be Caillebotte’s own studio at 77, rue de Miromesnil in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. A window on the back wall admits natural light. The workers are all shown with nude torsos and tilted heads, suggesting a conversation. This is one of the first paintings to feature the urban working class. There is a motif of curls in the image, from the wood shavings on the floor, to the pattern of ironwork in the window grill to the arched backs and arms of the workers. The repetition in the image, with the three workers engaged in different aspects of the same activity but having similar poses, is similar to works by Caillebotte’s contemporary, Edgar Degas.
Despite the effort Caillebotte put into the painting, it was rejected by France’s most prestigious art exhibition, the Salon, in 1875. The depiction of working-class people in their trade, not fully clothed, shocked the jurors and was deemed a “vulgar subject matter”. He was hurt by this rejection, and instead showed it at the second exhibition of the Impressionists, with whom he had already associated himself, in 1876. He presented it alongside some of his other works, including a second, different version of Raboteurs from 1876, and his earlier work Jeune homme à la fenêtre (Young Man at the Window) The images of the floor scrapers came to be associated with Degas’s paintings of washerwomen, also presented at the same exhibition and similarly scorned as “vulgar.”
The painting divided opinion in Parisian art circles. Among the detractors, Emile Porchoron, a critic of Impressionism, damned Caillebotte with faint praise: “the least bad of the exhibition. One of the missions Impressionism seems to have set for itself is to torture perspective: you see here what results can be obtained.” Émile Zola praised the technical execution, but then called it “an anti-artistic painting, painting as neat as glass, bourgeois painting, because of the exactitude of the copying.” Louis Énault was not troubled by the depiction (“The subject matter is certainly vulgar, but we can understand how it might tempt a painter”) but did find fault with the image’s fidelity to the scene: “I only regret that the artist did not choose his types better… The arms of the planers are too thin, and their chests too narrow… may your nude be handsome or don’t get involved with it!”
The painting received praise from many critics, though. Regarding the Salon rejection, poet and critic Émile Blémont called the decision “[a] very bad mark for the official jurors”. Maurice Chaumelin compared Caillebotte favorably to his contemporaries, writing that the work showed that he was “a realist just as raw, but much more witty, than Courbet, just as violent, but altogether more precise, than Manet.” Philippe Burty made comparisons to an even earlier generation of artists: “His pictures are original in their composition, but, more than that, so energetic as to drawing that they resemble the early Florentines.”