Walter Gay was a flower painter in Boston until 1876. That year he went to Paris and studied with Léon Bonnat until 1879. He travelled to Spain, where he discovered Velázquez. The following year he shared a studio on the Boulevard de Clichy with three American artists. Under the aegis of Jacques-Émile Blanche he joined the group of 33, which brought together good mainstream artists in opposition to the revolutionaries of the time. As was the American custom he joined many artists' associations, both in the USA and in Belgium and France, including the Bande Noire (Black Group), a group of Post-Impressionist artists whose members included Charles Cottet, René Ménard and Lucien Simon. He was made a Chevalier, then Officier and finally Commandeur of the Légion d'Honneur in 1927. He collected works of art and decorative objets d'art, which were bequeathed to the Louvre by his widow in 1938.
After visiting Brittany in 1884 he painted genre scenes in a naturalist style in the manner of Bastien-Lepage. He was fond of richly decorated interiors, provincial sitting rooms and dining rooms adorned with hallmarked chests of drawers, paintings by masters and pieces of porcelain mounted on bronze. He drew his inspiration from the great rooms in the Château de Versailles, the Musée Carnavalet and his own rooms in the Château de Bréau. Although his interiors showed a tranquillity worthy of Chardin in their precision and subtlety of arrangement, this opulence lost favour with the public. Around 1935 he began painting less sumptuous interiors once again, portraying private apartments, as can be seen, for example, in the work entitled White Room.
He exhibited in many Salons, bringing back gold medals from Vienna in 1893, and exhibiting in Antwerp in 1894, Munich in 1895 and Paris in 1900.
2002, American Impressionism 1880-1915 (L'Impressionisme américain 1880-1915), Fondation de l'Hermitage, Lausanne
1980, Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University (retrospective)
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Blérancourt (Mus. Nat. de la Coopération Franco-américaine): Interior, Château du Breau (1909, oil on canvas); Interior, Château de Courance (1909, oil on panel)
Castres (Mus. Goya): The Cigar-makers of Seville (1894, oil on canvas)
Lyon (MBA): Lake Como (oil on panel)
Paris (Louvre): The Blessing (1888, oil on canvas)
Paris (Mus. d'Orsay): several interiors, including Blue and White (1904, oil on panel)