Walter Gay American, 1856-1937


Gay was born on January 22, 1856 in Hingham, Massachusetts.  In 1875, he began his formal training as a painter, joining a studio on Tremont Street to draw from live models.  Like many young painters in Boston, Walter Gay sought the guidance of William Morris Hunt, the influential teacher and painter who had enlightened the country about Jean François Millet and the Barbizon School.  Hunt encouraged Gay to follow the path he himself had taken with Gay's uncle, Winkworth Allen Gay, and seek instruction in France.  With earnings from a few picture sales supplemented by financial help from new patrons, Gay headed to Paris in 1876; he immediately entered the atelier of Léon Bonnat, where he soon met lifelong friend, John Singer Sargent.

France would be Gay's home from then on.  As he and his wife Matilda prospered, they were able to keep an apartment in Paris as well as Le Bréau, an 18th century chateau near the Fontainebleau forest.  The expatriate couple thrived within a wide social circle that included many American and French artists and writers:  James McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Edith Wharton, and Henry James, among them.  When the artist died in 1937, he was dubbed the "Dean of American Painters in France" in his New York Times obituary.

Museums and Public Collections

Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois

Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio

Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, California

Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Musee D'Orsay, Paris

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

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