The painting shows the famous Henri Cordier immersed in his work and unable to pose for his portrait. Gustave manages to illustrate the professor surrounded by the overwhelming trappings of his academic life. He demonstrates Cordier hunching over a desk that appears a little tall, which is reminiscent of Gustave’s perspectival distortion of interior scenes in 1875 The Floor Scrapers and the 1876 Young Man Playing the Piano. Caillebotte records the intensity of the professor’s focus as he grips his pen on one hand as the other holds the page to take notes. The painter includes a bookcase on the right side of the professor in different colours and sizes to underscore his intellectual energy.
Gustave was an impressionist, and his work was greatly influenced by painters like Monet, Renoir, Degas and Cezanne, among others. The group advocated for the use of greater naturalism using colour, tone and rendition of light on a surface. All these features are evident on Gustave’s Portrait of Henri Cordier painting, though he also borrowed from his former Realist techniques. He uses an unusual composition that crops the subject into two and combines decorative features to fill the space. Caillebotte also includes a palette of purplish reflections and textural effects similar to other works he created during that period. Gustave brings out the subject’s intense reading activity, drawing the viewer to look closely; maybe to catch a glimpse of the title on Cordier’s book. He also labours over the intricacies of the interior scenes of the subject’s surroundings to create natural and immersive settings.
Gustave created the Henri Cordier portrait at a time that he had reduced his output of work. Then, he spent most of his time gardening and building yachts. He had abandoned large scale painting and focused on painting sailing boats and boaters. However, Gustave was socially acquainted with Henri Cordier and agreed to create a portrait of the professor.
Portrait of Eugene Daufresne
The portraiture illustrates a picture of Gustave’s cousin from his mother’s side. He is also immersed in a book (probably a famous novel of the period), oblivious of his surroundings. Cordier and Daufresne do not share the same level of intellectual activity. Daufresne is reading for pleasure while Cordier is a professional scholar, yet Gustave shows great detail in portraying the thoughtful absorption exhibited by the subjects.