Sunflowers along the Seine
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The flowers of Gustave Caillebotte’s Sunflowers Along the Seine appear animated with a strange confusion, as if part of a modernist Fantasia where the flowers sung the Soviet national anthem instead of the lilting Nutcracker.

This is quite different from Fantasia, though. We have a family of sunflowers lovingly painted along the gleaming and glass-like Seine. A building emblazoned with a French flag peaks out in the background, breaking the sense of naturalism by inserting a cry of the city. It is quite odd how human-like the sunflowers appear. It’s like they're in conversation about what they think is going on in that building back there. Maybe they think it’s an eyesore and want it removed. 

Many of Caillebotte’s most famous paintings present the viewer with a subject experiencing a new and disorienting world. His subjects were quiet Parisians (and not usually flowers) navigating the newly modernized and industrialized France. Bridges of girded steel are common elements in his work, perhaps the most brutal feat of engineering, at least in terms of visual appeal. His work often reminds us of the insane amount of transformation cities went through to become industrialized in the 19th century. Because of this, his impressionistic works also read like the metaphors of a modernist author.

Caillebotte was an engineer himself, which explains his interest in architecture. Painting was something he never depended upon for money; instead, he was a patron for artists like Degas and Renoir. During the 1880’s, the time this painting was made, he retreated slightly from the art world and picked up gardening. This painting, then, seems to favor all three of his pursuits: engineering, gardening, and art.

It goes without saying that this painting brings to mind van Gogh’s Sunflower series. Curiously, about the time Van Gogh began those paintings, he asked his brother Theo to go see the work of Caillebotte so that he could describe it to him. He had never seen one before and wanted to know what it was like. Maybe – and only maybe – these paintings are more connected than we think, like the interconnected roots of neighboring plants.



  1. Lennon, Troy. "Gustave Caillebotte Died Leaving a Great Legacy of Impressionist Paintings to France." The Daily Telegraph. February 20, 2019.
  2. Stamberg, Susan. "Gustave Caillebotte: Impressions Of A Changing Paris." NPR. June 03, 2011. Accessed April 29, 2019.
  3. Marrinan, Michael. Gustave Caillebotte. Painting the Paris of Naturalism, 1872-1887. Los Angeles: Getty Trust Publications, 2017.
  4. Varnedoe, Kirk. Gustave Caillebotte. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.