When I was a child, we always had prints of famous paintings on various of the walls at home. It’s little wonder I grew up with a taste for things French (including a certain man), because most of these prints were of works by French painters – from Chardin to Lautrec.
One of my favourites was the depiction of a nineteenth century couple walking along a Paris street in the rain. The man holds up a large black umbrella to shield the pair against the downpour and the streets are cobbled in that tell-tale European way, evoking daydreams of times of yore. I always loved looking at a particular building in the background, which is shaped like a piece of pie, the point of which is aimed directly at the viewer. “Why would an architect make a building that shape?” I’d ask, “To fit the parcel of land, I suppose, but it’s not very practical. How on earth would you furnish the triangular rooms in the point?” No one ever had an answer for me, but it didn’t matter one jot. I loved that painting regardless of the fact that I didn’t understand the reasoning behind triangular buildings, or why the beautiful woman wears black. Had she and her husband been to a funeral? Or perhaps were they in mourning? Regardless, as an artistic device their sombre clothes match well the drizzle of the day. Yes, it was likely that they were sad about something and that gave me yet another mystery to ponder.
Gustave Caillebotte was the artist responsible for this work, named ‘Rue de Paris; temps de pluie’, or ‘Rainy Day in Paris’, the original of which now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. Those In The Know refer to Caillebotte as an impressionist, yet there’s a realism in his work that the Seurats and Monets lack. Caillebotte’s paintings are like snapshots of the époque in which he lived. You could almost walk into them, they’re so lifelike.
Given my interest in Caillebotte you can imagine my excitement when Monsieur’s Maman suggested lunch at the Parc Caillebotte in Yerres. Caillebotte had been born into a well-to-do Parisian family that spent many of their summers at the family property in Yerres, a small town on the Yerres River, to the south of Paris. This property has been named Parc Caillebotte for its former owners and appears in various of Caillebotte’s paintings, such as Les Oragers (The Orange Trees).
Le Casin at Parc Caillebotte
The ‘Mairie’, or Mayor’s office, for Yerres has invested much time and effort in restoring the Parc to create a leisure destination which successfully blends culture, relaxation, and natural beauty, whilst celebrating the work of its famous son. Sadly, it was a grey February day when we made our visit to the Parc, but that didn’t detract from its interest. The large, white Caillebotte family house known as ‘le Casin’ stands proud at the entrance to the Parc. It is home to two permanent exhibitions, but was closed when we visited. Outside, there are various buildings of different styles and purposes dotted around the grounds, like the funny little pagoda atop a rockery with grotto beneath. This was also closed but in the summer months it serves as a refreshments kiosk. On a day like this, there was little need for a bottle of something refreshing. The weather was fresh enough.
Down by the river, there’s a long, white orangery with outdoor seats, where a couple of local dames sat and gossiped, quite oblivious to the chill in the air. Monsieur’s Maman told us that further afield lay a chapel and vegetable garden, but we all agreed that, on this occasion, it was too cold to hang about and explore. Warm interiors beckoned.
“It’s true, I swear. Marie-Claude buys the Chinese escargots. Quelle horreur!”
At the Parc I did, however, talk to the animals again. There are hens of all descriptions and a pair of flopsy white rabbits in a large chicken coop behind the Parc’s restaurant, Chalet du Parc, so I clucked at them and they clucked back and Monsieur’s Maman must then have realised that her son is marrying a madwoman. As for Monsieur, well, he’s just used to it. His ears are now deaf to my clucking sounds.
I loved these cotton wool hens with their little blue faces. And so did the four year-old next to me!
One day, when the sun shines and the arctic air has gone, I hope we will all return to the Parc Caillebotte. There are the exhibitions to see, naturally, but on the Halcyon day that I imagine, we won’t want to linger indoors. We’ll buy cold drinks at the Pagoda kiosk, picnic on the broad lawn and then perhaps rent a couple of canoes to paddle up and down the river, just like the man in Caillebotte’s painting, ‘Les Périssoires sur l’Yerres’ (‘Oarsmen on the Yerres). To that day I do look forward, very much indeed, but first I should really tell you all about LUNCH.