In 1879 Gustave Caillebotte participated in the fourth exhibition of the Impressionist group with an exceptional set of thirty-five paintings and pastels. This is the most important set of works by Caillebotte exhibited during the artist's lifetime. While urban subjects still figure, as in Vue de Toits [View of Rooftops] (Paris, Musée d'Orsay), most of the paintings represent scenes of water sports, boating and riverside leisure. Partie de bateau is without doubt one of the most emblematic paintings in the series.
By its iconography, its style and its history, Partie de bateau appears as one of the major works of the artist, and even of the impressionist painting of the 1870s. Caillebotte takes up a subject characteristic of naturalism, the emergence of a society of leisure and more particularly here the development of water sports, treated by Thomas Eakins in the United States or, in France, by Claude Monet, Édouard Manet or Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The theme was very attractive to Caillebotte, who himself practiced rowing. This familiarity with the subject led the artist to make the sporting activity and the character of the rower in full effort, seen in "close-up", the main subject of his painting, unlike his elders who made the motif one of several elements of the landscape (Monet, Renoir) or depicted the rowers before or after the action (Manet). Owned by the artist and later by his brother Martial and his heirs, Partie de bateau has remained in France, in the family collections, until today. This painting of exceptional quality is of major patrimonial interest.
The acquisition of Partie de bateau, classified as a national treasure in 2020 by the Ministry of Culture, fills a real gap and enriches the collection with a masterpiece, without equivalent in French public collections. Although it is generally accepted that the Musée d'Orsay's impressionist collection is one of the most important in the world, the French national collections only include thirteen works by Gustave Caillebotte, despite recent additions. Until now, the Musée d'Orsay had no works by the artist from the period dedicated to the subject of water sports, so emblematic and constitutive of the Impressionist aesthetic. Partie de bateau now joins the Vue de Toits [View of Roofs], also exhibited by the painter at the 1879 Impressionist exhibition. The entry of this work into the national collections thus significantly changes the face of the museum's impressionist collection, which was rich but also largely dependent on the tastes of its major donors (Étienne Moreau-Nélaton, Isaac de Camondo, Antonin Personnaz, etc.), who were not collectors of the artist.