This is one of two paintings of urban laborers that established Caillebotte’s reputation at the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. In this image, the two men—likely master and apprentice—finish a newly laid hardwood floor by shaving the buckling boards into plane. Research suggests that the space may have been Caillebotte’s own studio. While the older man passes his tool over the joins, leaving behind curled shavings, the boy pauses to sharpen his blade.
Anticipating his later open-air scenes, this painting reveals Caillebotte’s early explorations of light, water, and reflection (floor scrapers typically wet the boards to prevent splintering). At the left edge of the canvas, the strict geometries of the ironwork, reflected on the floor, dissolve into squiggles. Many conservative writers disliked such scenes of urban labor, but critics allied with the avant-garde applauded the subject drawn from daily life and identified Caillebotte as an emerging talent.