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The Open Window, Le Bréau

American, Realist
ca. 1907-1919
54.61 cm x 44.45 cm (21 1/2 in. x 17 1/2 in.)
watercolor on artist board

Not on view


Through the open casement window depicted in this watercolor, one sees the 1705 central block, the later eighteenth-century end pavilion addition, and part of the courtyard of the Château du Bréau, the house near the village of Dammarie-les-Lys, which Walter Gay and his wife, Matilda Travers, purchased in 1907. Although the house is no longer extant, having been demolished in 1971, this watercolor is one of a very few exterior renderings by Gay that record the château’s architectural character. The seven-bay central block has three and a half stories and is clad in stuccoed brick with natural brick window reveals. The windows have exterior louvered shutters, some of which are closed, and beneath each window is a tablet. The dormer windows are capped with semi-circular pediments, and the central dormer, which is larger than the others, is ornamented with Flemish-scroll volutes to either side. In the courtyard is a “hot house” tree, probably a citrus, in its square wooden planter, subtly echoing the warm weather implied by the open window.

Gay did a second version of this composition where the facade is seen at night with interior lighting seen through several of the windows. This work is in a private collection. (1) Another work related to the Dumbarton Oaks watercolor, and possibly painted in the same room, is La Fenêtre, Bréau, in a private collection and dated 1915. (2) This canvas shows more of the room, including an octagonal Empire table with a shelf haphazardly covered with books, papers, a glass bowl of water, and a paintbrush. The casement window is closed, and only a small part of the château’s brickwork is viewed beyond.

In painting this watercolor, Walter Gay has first applied broad transparent washes of color to block in the composition over which he has built up detail with more opaque watercolor pigments and gouache. Although The Open Window, Bréau is ostensibly a realistic depiction, Gay has also concentrated on the abstract grids of rectangular shapes created by the oblique vantage point of the casement window and the house façade. In addition, he has manipulated the spatial disparities of the composition, contrasting the compressed foreground space of the window with the more open, but not unlimited space of the courtyard, and he has distinguished different visual realities: the façade seen through the open window as opposed to its appearance through glass panes of varying degrees of transparency or as reflected in the glass. (3)

Many of Gay’s watercolors are sketches or preparatory studies for oil paintings; however, several, such as The Open Window, Bréau, are independent artworks and are often of a size equal to his largest oil paintings. When exhibited, Gay framed these watercolors, like the oil paintings, in antique carved, gilt frames, suggesting that to Gay they were of equal importance. Indeed, this painting was selected for three early exhibitions of Gay’s important work, including the 1938 Metropolitan Museum of Art memorial retrospective exhibition.

(1) Unpublished.

(2) Priscilla Vail Caldwell, Walter Gay, Poèmes d’Intérieurs (New York, 2003), no. 8.

(3) Gay depicted similar effects in View from a London Window (Suffolk Street Garlant’s Hotel), watercolor and gouache on brown paper measuring 35.81 x 27.18 cm (14 1/8 in. x 10 7/8 in.), in which Gay depicts the architecture of a wintry street as seen through six panes of glass. This work, which has the remnants of a date 19…, was sold at auction on November 28, 2007, by William Doyle, New York, N.Y., no. 2436.

J. Carder

Gallatin, Albert Eugene. Walter Gay, Paintings of French Interiors. New York, 1920, no. 16 and ill.

Gillet, Henri. "Walter Gay." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne, vol. 39, no. 222 (January 1921), 42.

Reynolds, Gary A. Walter Gay, a retrospective, September 16-November 1, 1980 (Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University, New York, 1980), 111, no. 88.

Scott, Barbara. "Dancing Sunbeam." Country Life, 4/20/1995, 85, fig. 1.

Rieder, William. A Charmed Couple, The Art and Life of Walter and Matilda Gay. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2000, 53-54, pl. 30.

Rieder, William. "Walter and Matilda Gay in Paris and the country." The Magazine Antiques, vol. CLVII, no. 6 (December 2000), 861, pl. II.

Sacred Art, Secular Context, Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., Accompanied by American Paintings from the Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss. Asen Kirin, editor. Athens, Georgia: Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, 2005, 170-171, no. 79.

Carder, James. American Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010, 74-77, no. 10.

Taube, Isabel L., Impressions of Interiors; Gilded Age Paintings by Walter Gay. Pittsburgh: Frick Art & Historical Center, in association with D Giles Limited, London, 2012, 114, 115, pl. 16.

Exhibition History
Gimpel and Wildenstein Galleries, New York, NY, An Exhibition of Paintings and Water Colors by Walter Gay, February 17-March 6, 1920, as “no. 23. The Open Window (Water Color).”

Knoedler & Co., New York, NY, American Institute of Decorators, Loan Exhibition “Interiors,” 1934.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings By Walter Gay (1856-1937), April 9-May 30, 1938, as “no. 30. The open window, Château du Bréau.”

Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York, NY, Walter Gay: A Retrospective, September 15-November 1, 1980, no. 88.

The Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, GA, Sacred Art, Secular Context, May 15-November 6, 2005, no 79.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., American Art at Dumbarton Oaks, Selections from the House Collection, October 26, 2010-February 13, 2011, no. 10.

Frick Art & Historical Center, Pittsburgh, Penn., Impressions of Interiors; Gilded Age Paintings by Walter Gay, October 6, 2012-January 6, 2013, no. 16.

The Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, Palm Beach, Fl., Impressions of Interiors; Gilded Age Paintings by Walter Gay, January 29-April 23, 2013, no. 16.

Acquisition History
Purchased from the artist by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, September 9, 1919.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Paris and Washington, D.C., until January 17, 1969.

umbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.

House Collection