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Gustave's last day

Gustave gets up, his head a little heavy. He slept badly. He slowly descends the steps of the wooden staircase with the iron railing and heads for the kitchen. There is a small pile of embers left in the stove. Gustave throws a few pieces of anthracite on it and stirs at random. Then after opening the squeaky shutters, he mechanically tears off a new sheet of the calendar: February 21, 1894.

Outside, the sun is barely rising in a pale mist that coats the flowerbeds and gravel paths.

Gustave Caillebotte et sa chienne Bergère au Petit-Gennevilliers
Gustave Caillebotte et sa chienne Bergère au Petit-Gennevilliers

Gustave Caillebotte is an excellent gardener. Oh, not like Monet in an abundance of bushes dotted with water lilies floating in the ponds! No, rather like a scientist who is constantly looking for new varieties, organized with a line in a land he has brought in trains of whole barges to cover the arid soil of the Petit-Gennevilliers estate. The only concession made to the flowers in battle: the roses and the dahlias that Charlotte loves. Gustave also raises orchids and, to remember the varieties he liked, he prefers to paint them than to photograph them.

Gustave Caillebotte. Massif de jacinthes, jardin du Petit-Gennevilliers, Collection particulière
Gustave Caillebotte. Massif de jacinthes, jardin du Petit-Gennevilliers, Collection particulière

The clock strikes eight. Bergere, the dog, leaps from her basket and lies down at the feet of Gustave, who has sat down at the table. He begins to cut himself a large slice of bread after filling a bowl with steaming coffee. Charlotte is still sleeping. Gustave decided to take care of his rosebushes and rid them of their dead wood. It will not be a question of pruning them. For that, we will wait until the end of March.

Gustave covers himself with a coarse canvas jacket, puts on his cap and slips on a pair of clogs.

Martial Caillebotte. Gustave Caillebotte jardinant au Petit-Gennevilliers
Martial Caillebotte. Gustave Caillebotte jardinant au Petit-Gennevilliers

No sooner had he opened the door than a sharp cold surprised him. He hurries to get some pruning shears from the workshop and begins to thin out the rosebushes. Suddenly, he is seized with tremors.

- I will continue this afternoon, he said to himself.

Gustave goes home quickly to get warm. Despite the shivers that take him back, he tries to paint. His chest is painful, a nasty dry cough breaks out. He must go back to his room. After a few breathless steps, he has to sit down on a chair. His vision blurs, he loses consciousness. It will pass away a few hours later.


The one who said, after the death of his brother René aged 25: "we die young in the family" left this world when he was not 46 years old.

In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...




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