The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Walter Gay, 1856-1937

Nationality: American
Date of Birth: 1856.01.22
Place of Birth: Hingham, Boston, MA
Date of Death: 1937.07.13
Place of Death: Le Breau, Dammarie-les-Lys, near Fontainbleau


Walter Gay was an American painter and collector. He met his wife Matilda (d. 1943), the daughter of a Wall Street financier, in 1889 in Paris.


Gay studied under Léon Bonnat in Paris. Influenced by the work of Velásquez following a trip to Spain in 1879, Gay began producing paintings in a realist mode with a fluid brushwork and in a high tonal key. He made his début at the Salon in 1879 with Fencing Lesson (Private Collection, New York). Inspired by trips to Brittany and Barbizon in the late 1880s, Gay began painting scenes of peasant life, e.g. The Blessing (1889; Musée Picardie, Amiens). 1895 marked a new concern for domestic interior scenes, and in 1905 Gay had his first exhibition in Paris of purely interior scenes. That same year, the Gays rented Château Le Bréau, Dammarie-les-Lys, near Fontainbleau, which they bought in 1907. The old master drawings, paintings and bronzes that he collected over his lifetime were donated to the Louvre at his death.

Gay met Whistler in Paris in the winter of 1894. He described Whistler as still having in the 1890s 'the enthusiasm and energy of the early years'. His memories of Whistler are quoted at length by the Pennells. Gay bought Whistler's Little Scheveningen (M.965) and r.: Grey note - Mouth of the Thames; v.: Caricature of a man in a cocked hat (M.1046), both of which he lent to an exhibition in Boston in 1904 and the former to the Whistler Memorial exhibition in London in 1905. His last meeting with Whistler took place in London in the spring of 1903, just before Whistler's death, at which time Gay found him 'singularly gentle and affectionate'.


Rieder, William, A Charmed Couple: The Art and Life of Walter and Matilda Gay, New York, 2000; Gallatin, A. E., (ed.), Walter Gay: Paintings of French Interiors, New York, 1920; Reynolds, G., Walter Gay: A Retrospective, New York, 1980; American Paintings: a Catalogue of the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 3, New York, 1965-1980; Reynolds, Gary A., 'Walter Gay', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 8 March 2002).