How an Engineer Looks at Art


Last week, I had the good fortune to attend an exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. The exhibition was entitled "Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter's Eye." The painting above is "Pont de L'Europe" (or "Europe bridge," because the bridge was situated at the crossroads of six roads, each named after a European capital). So, it is clear from (1) the title of the painting, and from (2) the subject (where the bridge trusses take up most of the painting), that the painting is about all about the bridge. Or it should be. We leave it to Joseph Black who created an interesting, and articulate, description of what we see. Black was a distinguished engineer. When I saw the painting, my gaze moved around the canvas but then focused on the iron bridge, since bridge construction is an interest of mine. The iron bridges were "high tech" in the 19th century--marvels of engineering. The man on the right hand side of the painting is looking at the rail yard for Gare St. Lazare. Looking at Caillebotte's painting and reading Black's description were treats. Contrast this with my experience of reading some of the other things about the painting that we find on Wikipedia. Let's see. "A dog walks away from the observer..", "She has been interpreted to be a prostitute...", "signaling his own homosexuality...". I don't think the Wikipedia editors get it. This is a painting about a bridge. The people are props. Leave it to an engineer to give us a reasonable interpretation when it comes to paintings containing beautiful structures.