Restlessly energetic, always seeking focus, he trained as an engineer, earned a law degree, and fought in the Franco-Prussian war. It was only in the early 1870s that he decided to become an artist. He enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts, studied with academic gurus like Jean-Léon Gérôme, but soon left. Largely self-taught he moved back and forth between Paris and the family estate in the village of Yerres, painting what he found.
Caillebotte went about painting in the orthodox academic way, which was also an engineer’s way, with the aid of preliminary drawings and oil sketches, a labor-intensive method that the artists who would come to be called Impressionists were leaving behind in favor of spontaneity. The Impressionists were a marginal phenomenon when Caillebotte became aware of them but a modern one, which is what he needed to know.
He visited the first Impressionist salon in 1874. When the second one took place two years later, the artists involved, including Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Cézanne andDegas, welcomed his participation.
He repaid their hospitality with patronage. He organized exhibitions for them, promoted their careers, paid their rent (Monet survived on his generosity for years) and bought their paintings, amazing things, out of the studio. He bequeathed his collection to the French government, with the stipulation that it be put on public view. Part of it became the foundation of what is now the Musée d’Orsay.