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Picturing a World

Walter Gay (5) The Gilded Age

Here is Walter Gay depicting the Gilded Age interior splendor for which he is best known. The word is luxe. (And, yea, the painting is shown in its ornate gilt frame.) I'll leave it to art historians to discuss Gay as an artist. For those of us who write fiction his pictures offer loads of period details for life among the rich in the latter part of the 19th C and into the 20th, especially in France.

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Walter Gay interiors (4): Creative misprision

"Creative misprision" is a concept in literary criticism. Briefly put, an artist or a writer misinterprets someone else's work and takes off from there in a new direction. When I first saw this pastel drawing by Walter Gay, I thought the window looked out onto the brick wall of the next building. I saw the room as empty, dusty, and formerly grand but now hemmed in and down-at-heels. Maybe it could be the setting for a young protagonist who is thrilled to find a romantic apartment which is cheap because of the blocked view. Maybe it could illustrate a melancholy last view by someone moving out. The fact that the image is non-narrative in itself makes it more potent in a way for stimulating imagination.

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Walter Gay's interiors (3) Himself in his studio

This photograph shows how many props, bibelots, and other furnishings filled Walter Gay's own studio. In looking for a photo of Carolus-Duran in his for comparison, I was delighted to find that a post—Where the Light Falls: An American Artist in Paris—is still available at the American Girls Art Club in Paris … and Beyond website. It has many images that illustrate the novel, including one of Carolus in his studio at his organ.

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Walter Gay’s interiors (2): Another Paris studio

As a first follow-up to my last post, here is another painting that could be a "portrait without a person," one that could help a writer create the character of late-19th C artist and visualize a setting. Notice that this picture is not attributed to Walter Gay himself, but to an unnamed follower.

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Walter Gay’s interiors (1)

In Where the Light Falls, my character Jeanette sketches and paints what she calls "portraits without people." The latter part of the 19th C saw many artists turn to picturing furnished rooms from which figures are excluded or very much subordinated to representations of light, textures, furniture, wall hangings, ornaments, house plants, etc. These are not genre pictures with implied stories, and yet they do let us catch glimpses of personalities, either the occupants' or the artist's.

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Renicks’ vestibule

While I was imagining Jeanette’s painting of a vestibule in the Renicks’ house—the one Carolus-Duran commends and is accepted for the Salon—I had in mind the work of Walter Gay. During my research, I read about him and his wife, Matilda in A Charmed Couple by William Rieder.

What a pleasant life they led!

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Inside the Renicks' House

The delicious Museé Jacquemart-André helped me invent the interior of the Renicks' house even if my fictional house is supposed to be older. Artist Nélie Jacquemart and her banker husband, Edouard André, built the mansion to display their art collection, which included many 18th C paintings, tapestries, and objects. To walk through it was to be in the house of connoisseurs with tastes similar to Marius Renick's. Gay's Grand Salon suggests why, after entering the Renicks' house, Edward finds that from now on he must expand his imagination for aristocratic scenes when he reads Balzac.

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