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Picturing a World

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.

Adrian Margaux wrote in The Strand Magazine (Vol. 32, no. 191, Dec. 1906, p. 503), "Mr. Walter Gay … has of late years 'developed a new line of art,' to use his own words. He conceived the idea of painting the portraits of rooms as portraits of people are painted, 'getting the spirit of the room, its personality and character, giving life, as it were, to furniture and bibelots.' He achieved immediate success in this new departure and has had so many followers that he may be said to have founded a school and is at the head of the present movement in Paris of the painters called 'Les Intimistes.'
Besides the similarity of this subject to The Paris Studio, look at the larger gilt-framed painting over the desk and compare it to The Front Parlor by Gay. Depending on how your story goes, the occupant might have hung a gift from Gay, her own copy of his work, or a painting by a different admirer. Maybe for your story, you would draw inspiration from a different artist who painted rooms, e.g., Anna Ancher.
In any case, I love the way this picture offers a glimpse out the window at the Parisian roofline and shows the room's source of light, so crucial to a painter. The mirror under it could introduce a whole set of themes. The elaborate fireplace surround suggests bourgeois success, which many working artists (then as now) preferred to the poverty romanticized in La Bohéme. For a writer the question becomes: Is this the studio of the main character? a teacher? a rival? What changes would have to be made to carry out visualizing the world of the story you want to create?

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