Spencer Hays, who is passionate about drawings, has collected several hundred over a period of thirty years, including rare works by the artists of the Pont-Aven School and the Nabis. Among these is a life-size preparatory study for a panel of The governesses walk, frieze of hackney cabs, one of Bonnard's early works, as well as a sketch of the complete screen in a small format.
Spencer Hays likes the spontaneity of drawing, its ability to inspire emotion with little means and a fragile support such as paper or cardboard. He prefers unusual works, like Bonnard's poster designs and illustrated musical scores in watercolour, and Toulouse-Lautrec's study for the cover of the monthly review L'Image. It was Vuillard, in his opinion, who recreated an intimist atmosphere most successfully, drawing the viewer into the domestic life of his characters, just as an actor draws his audience into the drama on stage. While still a stage manager at the Theatre de l'OEuvre, he produced a number of portraits of actors in character, including the unforgettable Biana Duhamel in the role of Miss Helyett.
The collection has a large number of still lifes and portraits; portraits of famous figures, forgotten figures, painters and sculptors. In the 1990s, the Hays started to take an interest in Fantin-Latour, captivated by his sensuous brushwork and the realistic textures of his still lifes. Heir to the classic tradition and often compared with Chardin, Fantin-Latour turned towards modernity after having been in contact with Manet. His Slice of Melon on a dark background, a portrait of a fruit, interacts harmoniously with the artist's selfportrait.
Caillebotte's Lobster, painted in 1883, has a place of honor in the dining room of the Hays apartment in New York. The painting depicts a lobster lying directly on a marble tabletop, which symbolises the sense of taste; it is an ode to the simple, yet refined love of this crustacean enjoyed by French and Americans alike.