While reading a short story by the incomparable modern master of the “novel of ideas”, Louis Auchincloss, I stopped short at a reference to the early Twentieth Century, American, expatriot artist, Walter Gay. I have long been an admirer of this often overlooked watercolorist who painted the interiors of the French chateaux of his wealthy friends. A contemporary and friend of Edith Wharton, he had ample opportunity to be the guest of the Americans who found themselves living in the paradise that was France before the Great European War. In the Twenty-First Century his work is being re-appraised and appreciated by interior decorators, if not by serious art critics. I hope I am not letting the cat out of the bag when I suggest that the architect, like the artist, is primarily interested in the perfection of the spaces he creates, not the lives of the flawed and fallible clients who are to inhabit them, except that they might rise to the occasion presented by their architecture and live the sort of virtuous lives implied by beautiful and harmonious spaces. Perhaps it is here that the staunch traditionalist meets the strident modernist in their joint crusade to reform the world through good design.
From “The Takeover”, by Louis Auchincloss
She glanced briefly at the quiet Gallic salon with its gray panels, its commode and bergeres, and the window opening to the edge of a formal garden.
“Well, if you like Walter Gay,” she said with a shrug.
“Oh, you knew it was a Walter Gay. Tell me about Walter Gay.”
“He did his friends’ chateaux, as you see. He was one of those exquisite expatriates of Edith Wharton’s world. He could paint, I admit. Lucian likes his things because there are no people in them. You don’t even feel that anyone’s just left the room. They are totally empty. Voids.”
“Is that it, Lucian? You don’t like people?”
Well, I could play their silly game as well as they. “I don’t especially like the people who occupied Gay’s rooms, no. Marquis and comtes with rich American wives. But the rooms, at least, are beautiful. Gay believed that rooms have souls even if their owners don’t. Or perhaps he imagined the souls the occupants thought they might develop by living in those rooms.”