"The Normanskill" by Edward B. Gay

The Normanskill Edward B Gay Albany Institute

If you head over to the museum's online collection you can zoom in on the painting.

Art break? Yes, let's engage in an art break.

The painting above is "The Normanskill" by the landscape painter Edward B. Gay. It's in the collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art, and it's also currently on display in the museum. It dates to around 1865.

Gay was born in Ireland in 1837. His family emigrated to the United States in 1848 because of political unrest related to Irish nationalism (there was also famine at the time). The Gays found their way to Albany and settled. By the time they got here they were not doing well financially and the children were put to work to earn money.

Edward Gay, who was about 11 years old, had jobs at a bowling alley and as a page in the state Assembly. He also, somewhat improbably for someone his age, ended up with a job mixing drinks. And even more improbably, it was at that job that his artistic talent was discovered.

From a biography of Edward Gay, the information for which attributed was attributed to his wife, that's in the files of the Smithsonian (it plays a little fast and loose with commas):

It was in these wine cellars ,their stone walls, freshly white-washed and lighted from above that Edward Gay began what was to be his profession. A stick of charcoal in his hand wherewith to keep the tally of wine bottles opened in some moments of leisure he drew upon the walls a landscape had held his fancy. Faint lines at first then as he grew bold a charcoal sketch of real vigor, and another sketch followed it. ... Drawn in such an abandon of joy quite forgetful of his duties, [the proprietor] came down to see what detained the fellow, but the Frenchman had the art instinct of race. "Eddie, Eddie, you must study art." "It is no longer that you mix drinks for these beats who have lost the taste for wine -- my vintages." Edward could not give up his job, as he was the oldest of the children at home.

So the wine cellar proprietor set up Edward Gay with a job supplying and serving drinks at a camp in Lake George for some of Albany's richest families. ("The old Dutch aristocrats of Albany dine with pomp and their sons imitated their taste. Drunkenness was a common failing among the aristocrats.")

The summer job provided Gay the opportunity to do landscape sketching in his free time. He was introduced to some prominent Albany-associated artists, such as James Hart. And his career started to take off. He studied in Europe. He returned to the United States. His works started to gain recognition and were exhibited in museums and other prominent displays. He set up a studio in New York City.

Edward Gay at work in 1907
Edward Gay at work in 1907. / photo: Smithsonian Institution via Wikipedia

Along the way Gay married Martha Feary of Albany in 1864. From one of the biographies on file with the Smithsonian: "[To Martha's] wise and sympathetic criticism of his work he attributes much of his success." (She also apparently came up with the titles for his paintings.)

They had nine children. And they later settled in Mount Vernon, New York. And it was there that Edward Gay died in 1928.

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