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Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers

Gustave Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers (Les raboteurs de parquet), 1875, oil on canvas, 102 x 146.5 cm (Musée d'Orsay, Paris). Speakers: Dr. Parme Giuntini, Director of Art History, Otis College of Art and Design and Dr. Robert Summers, lecturer, Otis College of Art and Design. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Luke Thomas
    Any worker ... with 1/2 a brain ... would not be wearing a shirt while scraping a floor ... unless he was out of his mind ... so ... how can this be associated with erotic painting !! ??
    (22 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Danielle Koch
      I agree wholeheartedly. I've scraped floors before and it's very hard work to clear even a small section of floor. So the partial nudity does make sense.
      But in this case, I think the lighting is what does it. If the light weren't so soft, or their arms and backs so carefully modeled, it would just be a picture of men at work. However, there's definitely a sensual aspect.
      (7 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user mark.vanbebber
    I find it interesting that the people talking about this painting are not the same narrators we have grown to know through these lessons. Suddenly, they view a painting as homo-erotic art. I have seen this painting a number of times in Paris and had never considered this interpretation. Perhaps, they are right... but I have a feeling that they are projecting their own interests onto this painting.
    (13 votes)
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    • purple pi purple style avatar for user kara.deguzman
      I agree! There might be a hint of homoeroticism, but certainly not enough to dominate interpretative discussion. Especially considering other artists' paintings of the working class in the act of labor incited such backlash, what with the political situation in Paris at the time. And I feel like Caillebotte's focus on the arms drives the discussion more towards the labor aspect, rather than the sensuality of the flesh.
      (3 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Ulrich Botha
    Is it possible that the artist wanted to depict the effect of hard manual labour on the bodies of the working lower class instead of it necessarily being homoerotic in nature?
    (8 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user joshuagoeke
    The discussion of homo-eroticism says much more about the intent and perspective of the interpreters than the artists in this case. They say nothing about the wine bottle and how these guys are enjoying a conversation while doing some really grueling work. This painting is a lot more about finding satisfaction and contentment in the midst of difficult situations than it is about sex.
    (6 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user rafaeldelaflor
    I did not sense eroticism. Beyond the men a scene opens up that is just out of view. The outer view gives the sense that the floor scrapers may be working in the most desirable part of the room and where the outer edges near the walls entailed more rigor in scraping. The viewer can sense the movements of the men; smoothness of the scrape, and quirkiness of the arms as they work. The bright and inviting outside is distracting and a pleasure the workers obviously aren't able to enjoy as freely as the observer could. I feel it is as they don't know you are watching them working. There is something enchanting by the quick movements and something almost classical about the motions which, the wrought iron on the windows behind the men mimic. The thin strip flooring is obviously a lower commons style strip flooring and by the less than kept paneling this is not a high class illustration but, rather a high style impressionism. Care to comment?
    (4 votes)
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  • female robot grace style avatar for user Elfin Morgan
    What are they doing?
    Why are they messing up the floor?!
    (0 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user quintenspitz
    Just saw this painting , in the flesh , yesterday at the d'orsay for the first time .
    Its has striking perspective .
    The men poses do me , speaks of cooperation , each man is performing a distinct task .
    Together they are getting a job done .
    The look to be professionals who know what its like to work together.

    The question is what makes this homo erotic ?
    (4 votes)
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  • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
    I've no problem with the discussion of the painting's homoerotic "content". I wonder, though, if something more about the painting itself rather than the cultural context of it's production and original response to it may have fit better into the video. There was a bit of this in the discussion early on about the echoing of the curves of the musculature of the workers in the curves of the wrought iron, but that all disappeared under the discussion of homosexuality in 19th century France, which dominated the dialogue. Perhaps the good folks at the Otis Art Institute could go back and re-do the video, focusing on the painting and talking some about the cultural context, not neglecting its homoerotic aspects.
    (3 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Terry Salazar
      I concur. Also, why imply "homo" aspects at all? Just leave it at sensually artistic. To compare shirts on or off with the stone breakers is ignorance. Working manual labor indoors in Italy without a shirt on is logical. Because of the heat. Working outdoors hauling stones around with shirts on is also logical because if you've ever hauled rocks, it's pretty painful to get scraped by the jagged edges.

      I loved this painting and bought a print of it in Paris simply because it is pleasing to view. I love the light and dark contrasts, the concept of showcasing the working class and the fact they are beautifying the wooden floor. That is all.
      (2 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user ColeKuethe
    At :52 they call the floor scrappers half nude. I'm a guy that works at the pool, so would these guys consider me half-nude in my guard suit? (Rhetorical; you don't have to respond)
    (2 votes)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user merawaters
      A rhetorical question deserves a rhetorical answer :) Perhaps if your appearance as a guard was part of a performance piece or if you were painted or sculpted or your image was otherwise depicted as art. The term "nude", though obviously meaning unclothed or naked ("plain or explicit" in original Latin) - at least in art - is most commonly used to refer to artistic nakedness or nakedness percieved or rendered in an artistic fashion. As such, it carries a meaning beyond mere unclothedness, whether idealization of the human form, or vulnerability or some other concept related to that particluar depiction, but almost assuredly not for any pragmatic reason such as heat or comfort.
      (3 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user joseph.biondich
    Did they just say that homosexuality was "invented" in the 17th century? Is there no vetting of the opinions of these "educators" because that was just empirically incorrect.
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

(piano playing) Dr. Giuntini: Parme Giuntini. I'm here with Robert Summers. We're looking at an impressionist painting, The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte. The Floor Scrapers is such a different depiction of manual labor then say Courbet's painting of the Stonebreakers. Dr. Summers: Courbet's Stonebreakers shows two men working outside, breaking stones in the heat and this is Courbet's homage to the working [tour]. On the other hand you have Caillebotte who is painting three men inside this gorgeous room already. Made more gorgeous by the lighting. What's interesting about this is that with Courbet's image of the Stonebreakers, the men are anonymous. With this you can see their face and they're also half nude. They're inside, you would expect the stonebreakers to be possibly half nude but they're not, they're fully dressed. As opposed to these men who are half nude and in this kind of kneeling position, scraping forward towards the artist. Simultaneously, eroticizing the male body through the lighting and the highlighting of the muscles on the arms and backs which match the curvy linear lines on the raw iron just outside the window. Also of the light that's illuminating, reflects the gold around the room. Aiming at this kind of sensual feeling about it. So he's centralizing the worker as opposed to what we could read Courbet is honoring or heroisizing the worker. Dr. Giuntini: But this does not become a model for a lot of subsequent male nudes. Do you think this was some kind of a troublesome image in some ways? Dr. Summers: During the 1800s, homosexuality was invented as an identity, before then it was just an act. Committed an act of sodomy and you could have been arrested. To the scientific community it became a verifiable identity category. Interestingly enough within the visual arts, the male nude roughly at the same time periods begins to disappear almost completely in replace of the female nude. I think that someone like Caillebotte who's been questioned by many as being same sex oriented would paint such images. He didn't have to worry about selling his images because he came from a wealthy family and so he could paint what he wanted to. Possibly desire for this working class male body. Dr. Giuntini: I think there are definitely class issues at play here because Caillebotte has painted these three men from a slightly superior position, he's looking down on them, and they are so eroticized. Dr. Summers: During this time period there was this self fashioning of the self by many men with money or who pretended they have money. Such as Oscar Wilde or Marcel Proust story, the artist that we're talking about here. Many people who enacted this kind of lifestyle that many would call decadent even in France during that time. Wearing expensive suits, etcetera and the [finer] and the dandier kind of examples of this figure. What's interesting is that they were drawn to the working class male body, not the aristocratic body but the body of the working poor but that plays out here I think visually. Where you have Caillebotte painting these men in this scene of labor that glorify the body of the male. Dr. Giuntini: How come it didn't become a model from [identity]? Dr. Summers: I don't think it was a model for the modern European world which was and remains to be heterosexually dominated because any reference to the male as erotic is always already troublesome at best. (piano playing)