Art History Hotties: The Floor Scrapers

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Gustave Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers, 1875

"What image am I trying to capture? Uh, you know. The toils of labor."

I like to imagine what sort of things Gustave Caillebotte must have said to his models. "Yes, your shirts have to be off for this." "Just bend over and pretend to scrape the floor." "It's not weird guys, it's art!"

With confidence, Caillebotte submited The Floor Scrapers, or Les raboteurs de parquet, to France's Salon with high hopes. He replicated the gloomy morning light as it shone onto the floorboard. Lean, characterless men hunched over, scraping away dutifully. Just a simple piece of workers in the early hours of the day. Seems innocent enough, right? Surely the Salon would approve.

The response: a solid rejection. Immediately, Caillebotte received his entry back thanks to its "vulgar subject material." It seemed that the Salon saw something different, something less earnest. Perhaps they were right to think that, but either way, Caillebotte took great offense. At the time, male nudity in art yielded to the female nude, which dominated interest. One critic remarked on the precision of the scene, claiming that the painting was optically accurate, but was limited because of it. Amusingly, another claimed that the models simply weren't attractive enough. If Caillebotte wanted to paint nudes, why not go all the way?

Perhaps unbeknownst to them, Caillebotte had indeed painted handsome male nudes, and would continue to do so. Notable works such as Homme au bain, and Man Drying his Leg popped up only a few years later, evidence of Caillebotte's refusal to deny himself the subject matter.

Never give up on what you love. Caillebotte loved painting naked dudes, and nobody, not even the Salon, could stop him.

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