The Floor Scrapers

“I take no joy in cleaning, none whatsoever,” says Mrs. U.  “But the state of cleanliness gives me calm. I’m very unhappy in clutter.”

I’m certain the men scraping the paint off the floor of Gustave Caillebotte’s studio by hand in 1875 took little joy in their labor either, but Monsieur Caillebotte, a man of leisure, found it rather erotic…and now they are immortalized in the Musée d’Orsay.

The bottle of wine on the floor fascinates me. Was this common among the Parisienne working class, or an indulgence he allowed them as compensation for modeling?

At 34, Gustave retired to the countryside to garden and be a patron of the arts. A strange choice in my book, for a man with at least one masterpiece to his name. He became a lotus-eater and grower of orchids.

He turns up later in The Luncheon of the Boating Party, seated lower right, his attention fixated on the other man in the straw boater and singlet, who as the proprietor’s son, is not exactly a member of the party himself nor dressed for it.   Renoir immortalizes Gustave a second time, in longing.

Wish as I might, there is no eroticizing the floor in Chez UpintheValley.  The robot does half the work.  Flickers of recognition pass before me…momentarily I feel like Degas with an iPhone admiring the washerwomen, and then …no, darling. Just no. I really hate this. And it’s leading up to nothing. Finish the outlet box in the ceiling. 

6 thoughts on “The Floor Scrapers”

  1. I’d guess it was common among the working class. It was common among our working class until the early nineties I would say. At least the parts of our working class not confined to a factory floor. It would have been beer though, not wine.
    It still goes on to an extent, check the dumpster on a residential construction site some time.
    Hemingway had a scene in one of his minor stories in which a bicycle racer swigs brandy during the race to help dull the pain.
    The past really is a different country.

    1. There was something called “small beer”, which might be akin to hard cider, which was common in colonial Britain. The Royal Navy referred to it as “grog”. Sailors were allotted several pints a day at sea in lieu of potted water. There’s a lovely scene in Master and Commander addressing a drunk sailor who failed to salute:
      Aubrey: What would you have me do?
      Maturin: Tip the grog over the side.
      Aubrey: Abandon three centuries of privilege and tradition? I’d rather have them three sheets to the wind than have a mutiny on my hands

  2. In the Luncheon of the Boating Party painting, Renoir’s girlfriend at the time and who eventually would become his wife, is seated far left.

    I find it intetesting how Gustave Caillebotte is seated with his chair turned around, perhaps similar to how a modern day male youth would sit.

  3. During my time in the trades and during a history class it was explained that it was customary for tradesmen to drink when maintaining their tools – sharpening blades etc. I also believe that in “The Botany of Desire,” it was argued that potable water was limited and that hard cider was ubiquitous even among children. Interesting to read about the details of the Boat Party painting. Looks like a pleasant event with a little underlying tension. Is Caillebotte restraining himself? Is it the chair a barrier? Perhaps he is reliving a moment earlier in the day at the helm?

    1. Perhaps, like many a rich diletante, he enjoys slumming and rough trade. His friend Renoir is having a little fun with it.

  4. There was something called “small beer”, which might be akin to hard cider, which was common in colonial Britain. The Royal Navy referred to it as “grog”.

    The Royal Navy distributed rations of rum and also gin to it’s sailors.
    To prevent the disease Scurvy, which manifests through lack of vitamin C, the RN additionally distributed fruit juice chiefly lime juice.
    To make it more palatable, the sailors mixed the rum or gin with the lime juice and added sugar.
    The “grog” or “limey’s” were the precursor’s of some of the earliest cocktails. The Daiquiri (lime & white rum) and the Gimlet (gin & lime) are descendants from the “grog”

    That’s how the American term for the British, “Limey” came into being.

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