The Floor Scrapers (1875) by Gustave Caillebotte
Interpretation of Urban Genre Painting

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The Floor Scrapers
By Gustave Caillebotte.
Regarded as one of the
greatest genre paintings of
the nineteenth century.

The Floor Scrapers (1875)
Also known as 'The Floor Planers' or 'The Parquet Planers'


Analysis of The Floor Scrapers
Explanation of Other Genre Paintings


Name: The Floor Scrapers (Parquet Planers) (1875)
French: Les raboteurs de parquet
Artist: Gustave Caillebotte (1848-94)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Type: Genre painting
Movement: Impressionism
Location: Musee d'Orsay, Paris

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).


The classically trained painter Gustave Caillebotte came from a very wealthy Parisian family and was initially best known not for his modern art but for the financial generosity he showed towards other Impressionist painters, by buying their paintings or gifting them money. Since the mid-20th century however, his own painting has been re-evaluated and he is now regarded by art critics as a painter of significant, if somewhat uneven, achievement. Among his greatest modern paintings are Young Man at His Window (1875), The Floor Scrapers (1875), and Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877). Caillebotte's unique contribution to modern French painting is his ability to combine the precise drawing, modelling and tonal values recommended by the instructors of the French Academy, with the bright colours, unusual perspectives, and modern subject matter of the emerging Impressionist movement. In addition, he purchased a substantial number of Impressionist paintings, which itself represented a vitally important contribution to the movement. For more background, see: Realism to Impressionism (c.1830-1900).

NOTE: For the full story behind French Impressionism and the avant-garde group of painters who were involved in its creation, see our 10-part series, beginning: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.

Analysis of The Floor Scrapers by Caillebotte

The Floor Scrapers (also known as The Parquet Planers or Floor Planers) is an early depiction of the urban working class at work. Until now, nearly all pictures of men and women at work were country scenes of farm workers and peasants, such as The Gleaners (1857), and Man with a Hoe (1862) by Millet and The Stone Breakers (1849–50) by Gustave Courbet. Only Honore Daumier in paintings like The Third-Class Carriage (1862-4) came close to representing the urban proletariat, although this would soon change: see, for instance, Impressionist paintings like The Road-Menders in the Rue de Berne (1878) by Manet, and Women Ironing (1884) by Degas.



The Floor Scrapers depicts three semi-nude floor-planers working on hands and knees, scraping a parquet floor in a Parisian apartment (thought to be Caillebotte's own studio at 77 rue de Miromesnil). Daylight enters the room from a window on the far wall. The painting includes images of several floor-scraping tools as well as an opened bottle of cheap wine. The diagonal alignment of the floorboards is offset by the rectangular panels on the far wall and by the curlicue motif of the iron window grill and the wood shavings that litter the floor.

Interestingly, Caillebotte adopts a wholly neutral approach and avoids the temptation to include any social or political message in his painting. His documentary-style composition, focusing on the actions and techniques of the floor-scrapers, their environment and their tools and accessories, makes it a masterpiece of realist painting and justifies his reputation as one of the great realist artists of the 19th century.

The perspective used by Caillebotte, enhanced both by the high angle adopted as well as the direction of the floorboards, is perfectly in keeping with academic traditions, as is the overall drawing, as well as the modelling and positioning of the nude torsos of the workers.

Despite this, the painting was rejected at the 1875 Salon because of its 'vulgar' realism, prompting Caillebotte to throw his lot in with the new Impressionist group. The following year, he re-exhibited The Floor-Scrapers at the second of the Impressionist Exhibitions in 1876, alongside the first of Degas' pictures of washerwomen ironing. Caillebotte also showed a second, different version of The Floor-Scrapers, as well as his masterpiece Young Man at His Window (1875, Private Collection).

Explanation of Other Genre Paintings

A Burial at Ornans (1850) by Gustave Courbet.
Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Race Horses in front of the Stands (1866-8) by Degas.
Musee d'Orsay.

The Balcony (1868) by Manet.
Musee d'Orsay.

Bazille's Studio (1870) by Frederic Bazille.
Musee d'Orsay.

The Cradle (1873) by Berthe Morisot.
Musee d'Orsay.

Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876) by Renoir.
Musee d'Orsay.

The Swing (1876) by Renoir.
Musee d'Orsay.

Women Ironing (1884) by Degas.
Musee d'Orsay.


• For analysis of other Impressionist genre paintings, see: Homepage.

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