In contrast to the cliché of the Bohemian starving artist, American painter Walter Gay lived something of a charmed life.
He was the nephew of an established Boston painter, Winkworth Allen Gay, through whom he met and studied with William Morris Hunt. At Hunt’s suggestion, Gay moved to Paris and studied with the respected French painter Leon Bonnat.
At Bonnat’s studio Gay met John Singer Sargent, which whom he would become lifelong friends. Like Sargent, Gay would remain an American expatriate, living the remainder of his life in France.
Gay married Matilda Travers, an heiress whose fortune would allow the couple to live in opulent surroundings, and also permit the artist to pursue his work without pressure. His work eventually was well received and his paintings were in high demand.
His earlier work included still life as well as figurative paintings and genre scenes, but the rooms and furnishings the luxurious spaces he shared with his wife, as well as the Gilded Age room interiors of others in their circle, would become the subjects of the later paintings for which he is best known.
His room interiors are the subject of an exhibit at the Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh, Impressions of Interiors: Gilded Age Paintings by Walter Gay, that is on display through January 6, 2013. (The provided link will likely change when the exhibition is over.)
The exhibit then moves to the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, Palm Beach where it will be on display from January 29 to April 23, 2012. The website for the Flagler has a slideshow of paintings from the show (the Frick Pittsburgh site, in an example of all too common museum website cluelessness, does not).
There is a book accompanying the exhibition, Impressions of Interiors: Gilded Age Paintings by Walter Gay. There is also another book, A Charmed Couple: The Art and Life of Walter and Matilda Gay, that I believe is out of print but still available.
There is also a “facsimile edition” of an older book, Paintings Of French Interiors…, but I don’t know what to expect from that edition in terms of image quality.
I find it particularly interesting that a number of Gay’s paintings of room interiors include his interpretation of artworks by other artists that were on display in the room, including The Fragonard Room (images above, top).