"When Walter Gay left the United States, in 1876, to study art, he moved to Europe for good, possibly because he was able to establish himself there both professionally and socially. As the nephew of the Boston painter Wincksorth Alan Gay, the artist was well connected from the start. Through his uncle, the younger Gay met William Morris Hunt, with whom he studied in Boston between 1873 and 1876. Hunt then directed Gay toward Paris, where he entered the studio of Leon Bonnat, remainting there for three years. While a student of Bonnat, Gay became interested in the work of Mariano Fortuny. These combined influences, both stressing a painterliness derived from the Spanish School, provided an artistic training far less eclectic than that of most Americans abroad, which may have had a bearing on the overall cohesiveness of Gay's oeuvre.
An 1882 trip to Barbizon with his uncle supplied Gay with the theme that occupied him for the rest of the 1880s. During this period he painted the peasant scenes that dominated his contribution to the 1889 Exposition. Of the six pictures he showed, four were of this type: The Spinners (1885), The Weaver (1886), Le Benedicite (1888), and Charity (1889). At the time of the fair, Le Benedicite was already owned by the French government, which had bought the picture from the 1888 Salon for the Luxenbourg Museum. Gay borrowed the picture back in order to show it at the Exposition. Most of the pictures Gay showed at the 1889 Exposition had been exhibited at Salons throughout the 1880s. The Weaver, a peasant scene, had been submitted to the 1886 Salon. Charity was too recent to have been exhibited at a Salon - which undoubtedly accounted for Gay's insistence that it be included amoung his fair entries. He would exhibit the picture again at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. It is interesting that although Gay won a silver medal at the 1889 Paris Exposition and awards at other locations throughout Europe during these years, he won no prizes at the American fair in Chicago.
Sizable contributions like Gay's at the 1889 Exposition fueled complaints by resident American artists that the expatriate Americans favored themselves. Be that as it may, the number of Gay's entries encables us to focus on their remarkable stylistic coherency. For example, each of his peasant scenes depicts figures in a light-flooded interior. Despite the forceful characterization of the figures, the scenes differ from those of Gari Melchers, Charles Ulrich, and others in that ther mood is largely derived from the setting itself. Since Gay had begun his career as a flower painter, this infiltration for the decorative or pictorial does not seem surprising. Theodore Child sensed the essential character of Gay's peasant scenes, noting in Le Benedicite "a distinct charm in the picture considered as a symphony of greys of infinite delicacy as they pass from the depth of airy transparent shadow to the softness of demi-teinte and the complete intensity of full light".
Such pictorial aspects, intimated at the 1889 Fair, would become explicit in the 1890s, when Gay dropped the figure altogether and concentrated on the setting. While his rococo interiors of later years do not constitute series in the sense of Monet's works during this period, their arrangements and repetitions address issues of artistic selection, taste, and style - that is, concerns of modernism - with which Gay has not usually been associated." Pairis 1889, American Artists at the Universal Exposition; Annette Blaugrund; Abrams Inc., 1989.