This beautifully illustrated volume offers a fresh assessment of the stylish, light-filled interiors painted by American artist Walter Gay (1856–1937) from the mid-1890s to the early 1930s.
With contributions by Priscilla Vail Caldwell, Nina Gray, Sarah J. Hall, and Emilia S. Boehm
A collector and tastemaker as well as a painter, Walter Gay, and his wife Matilda, enjoyed a role in high society on both sides of the Atlantic. John Singer Sargent, Gay’s nearly exact contemporary, is well known for painting the sumptuous clothing and jewels of American society in his fashionable portraits. Walter Gay, in contrast, painted society’s rooms—with their silk wall coverings, ornate panelling, 18th-century French furniture, tapestries, and sculptures—arranged in the private spaces of what were often legendary residences.
Gay initially won praise for his historical genre scenes, receiving a gold medal at the Paris Salon of 1888. From mid-career onward, he narrowed his focus to capturing the “spirit” of rooms, and it is these poetic interiors that form the basis for Gay’s legacy.
Approximately 70 works from public and private collections are brought together here, arranged thematically and accompanied by contextual discussions. Three essays explore Walter Gay’s career; his place in the history of American collecting; and the importance of interior decoration and the decorative arts to Walter and Matilda Gay, along with the influence of such contemporaries as Edith Wharton, Ogden Codman, and Elsie de Wolfe. A case study focuses on Gay’s work at the Frick Residence in New York.
About the authors
Isabel L. Taube, PhD, teaches 19th- and 20th-century American and European art history
at Rutgers University in New Jersey and at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Nina Gray is an independent curator and scholar specialising in 19th- and early 20th-century decorative arts and architecture. She was formerly associate curator of Decorative Arts and assistant curator of Architecture, Photographs and Prints at New-York Historical Society. Previous publications include A New Light on Tiffany, Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls (2007), “Tiffany’s Contemporaries, The Evolution of the American Interior Decorator” in Louis Comfort Tiffany, Artist for the Ages (2005), and “Decoration in the Gilded Age: The Frederick W. Vanderbilt Mansion” in Studies in the Decorative Arts (2003).
Priscilla Vail Caldwell is an independent curator and advisor. Formerly the vice president of Graham Gallery, New York, she has organised numerous shows of Walter Gay’s work and authored the 2003 publication Walter Gay: Poèmes d’Intérieurs.
Sarah J. Hall is chief curator, director of Collections at the Frick Art & Historical Center and co-author of Steel: Pittsburgh Drawings by Craig McPherson (2008).
Table of Contents
- Lenders to the Exhibition
- Director’s Foreword
- Guest Curator’s Acknowledgments
- Walter Gay: A Brief Biography
- Walter Gay’s Work at the Frick Residence in New York: A Case Study by Sarah J. Hall
- Walter Gay’s Poetic Rooms by Isabel L. Taube
- Gracious Living: The Interior Decoration of Walter Gay and His Circle by Nina Gray
- Passionate Collectors: Walter Gay and His Patrons by Priscilla Vail Caldwell
- Catalog by Isabel L. Taube
- Selected Bibliography
- Photo Credits