Who is That Dog in Gustave Caillebotte’s Impressionist Masterpiece Le Pont de l’Europe?

By Cameron Woo, January 2020
Gustave Caillebotte, Le Pont de l’Europe, 1876. Oil on canvas, 49 x 71 in. Collection of the Association des Amis du Petit Palais, Genève

Gustave Caillebotte, Le Pont de l’Europe, 1876. Oil on canvas, 49 x 71 in. Collection of the Association des Amis du Petit Palais, Genève

Gustave Caillebotte’s Le Pont de l’Europe is a classic example of French Impressionism. In it, the artist represents a Paris street scene: a striding man and a strolling woman; a workman/artisan looking over the bridge at the Saint-Lazare train station; and a jaunty dog moving with a purposeful, self-directed gait. (Most critics have assumed that the dog’s person is trailing after him, similarly to the artist’s painting Richard Gallo with His Dog Dick at Petit Gennevilliers.) The dog’s presence in the painting’s foreground in freezeframe stillness has a pre-cinematic effect, and the way his shadow parallels the shadow cast by the bridge’s girders reinforces its perspective. The artist, who lived near the bridge in the 8th arrondissement when it was undergoing urban renewal, may have been suggesting that the rules of social interaction—as defined by class, gender and even species—are as structured (yet as changeable) as the built environment.

Gustave Caillebotte and his dog Bergère on the Place du Carrousel, Paris. Photo taken around 1892 by Martial Caillebotte, brother of the painter.

This exquisite painting is in the collection of Le Petite Palais de Genève (Switzerland) and occasionally may be seen in traveling exhibitions of Impressionism or of Caillebotte’s work.

Dog figures appear in two of Caillebotte’s major paintings and the upper-class Parisian was often seen in the company of his dog Bergère, further evidence of his love of dogs.