The Floor Scrapers
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I don’t know about you, but I think the profession of “floor-scraper” just screams sex appeal.

Psych. I’m just joshin’. I’m not so much into floor-scrapers, but the French Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte definitely was. His painting Floor-Scrapers oozes with suppressed erotic desire.

This painting depicts three working-class, half-naked men scraping the floor of Caillebotte’s to-be studio. Caillebotte seems to eroticize the bodies of the men, situating them physically beneath the perspective of the viewer and elongating their arms and bodies to an impossible degree. The natural light flooding in through the window highlights the contracting muscles on the scrapers’ backs. I remember the first time I saw this painting I thought, “Damn, ok, I see you scrapers, I see you.”

While I personally find the image to be sexy, art critic Louis Enault declared, “Do the nude, gentlemen, if the nude suits you . . . But may your nude be handsome or don’t get involved with it!” Contrary to the conservative disgust that met this painting by members of the salon, Enault viewed the sinewy limbs and pale skin of the workers not as crude or vulgar subject matter, but as undesirable.

Often compared to Gustave Courbet’s The Stone Breakers, The Floor-Scrapers shares the subject matter of physical work. While Caillebotte’s Realist predecessor painted with a somewhat activist intention of humanizing the working class, Caillebotte just painted what was in front of him: the men working to make his studio suitable for use. The salon would not have accepted a plebian as acceptable subject matter for a painting, but Courbet changed this by making the work of the common people his central topic. Caillebotte does the same, in a way, yet his notorious wealth makes it unlikely that he intended to advocate for the working class. Wealthy members of French society at the time were often drawn to the working class male body rather than the aristocratic body. However, Caillebotte painted this during the 19th Century, at the beginning of the construct of homosexuality. So any semblance of *gay vibes* were a big no-no. But Mr. Money Bags Caillebotte couldn’t have cared less about the sale of his paintings because his artwork had no impact on his livelihood.

In short, Caillebotte was just a rich boy who didn’t want to leave his studio to go find peasants in the street to paint, so he figured he could just paint the peasants he hired to scrape the floors.




  1. Blank, Hanne. Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.
  2. Broude, Norma. Gustave Caillebotte and the Fashioning of Identity in Impressionist Paris. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002.
  3. “Gustave Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers.” Smarthistory. Accessed July 12, 2019.
  4. Marrinan, Michael. Gustave Caillebotte. Painting the Paris of Naturalism, 1872-1887. Los Angeles: Getty Trust Publications, 2017.
  5. Varnedoe, Kirk. Gustave Caillebotte. Yale University Press, 2000.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Les raboteurs de parquet

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 (40.2 in × 57.7 in). It was originally given 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.

Caillebotte's originality lay in his attempt to combine the careful drawing, modeling and exact tonal values encouraged by the Académie with vivid colors, bold perspectives, keen sense of natural light and modern subject matter of the Impressionist movement. 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. Caillebotte's interest in the male nude, set in a modern context, has been linked to his presumed homosexuality, however it was part of a larger trend, not necessarily limited to homosexual artists, that was first introduced by Courbet in a painting of two wrestlers (Museum of Fine Arts (Budapest)). This is one of the first paintings to feature the urban working class. It reintroduces the subject of the male nude in the painting, but in a strikingly updated form. Instead of the heroes of antiquity, here are the heroes of modern life—sinewy and strong—in stooped poses that would appear demeaning if they did not convey a sense of masculine strength and honest labor. 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 sa fenêtre (Young Man at His 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."

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Les raboteurs de parquet.