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Walter Gay (1856–1937)

Walter Gay (1856–1937)

Artist Walter Gay was born in Hingham, Massachusetts, on January 22, 1856. He left for Paris to further his artistic studies and ambitions in April 1876 and became a student of Léon Bonnat (1833–1922). He made his professional debut at the 1879 Paris Salon. In 1889, Gay married Matilda E. Travers (1855–1943), the daughter of William R. Travers, a wealthy and prominent New York investor who, on his death in 1887, left Matilda a fortune of three million dollars. Gay became a member of a number of American and European artist societies with which he exhibited, including the Society of American Artists (1880), the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (1890), the Société Nouvelle (later the Société des Peintres et des Sculpteurs) (1897), the Society of Secession (1897), and the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1898). Beginning in 1895, when the Gays rented a small summer house at Magnanville, he began painting his first "empty interiors," depictions of uninhabited, elegantly appointed rooms. In 1905, the Gays rented the Château du Bréau, near the village of Dammarie-les-Lys. In 1907, they purchased Le Bréau furnished from the Comtesse de Gramont d’Aster for 765,000 francs (about 2.5 million dollars today). Gay would paint the interiors of the Château du Bréau for the remainder of his life. The Gays were friends of Elisina Tyler, Royall Tyler, Mildred Barnes Bliss, and Robert Woods Bliss, who were introduced by their mutual friend Edith Wharton in 1913. Walter Gay died in Paris on July 15, 1937.

James N. Carder, American Art at Dumbarton Oaks (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010), 56–64.

William Rieder, A Charmed Couple: The Art and Life of Walter and Matilda Gay (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000).


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