Every collector would like to own the very best, a ten on the one-to-ten scale, but for most artists there aren’t that many tens, and they are usually the most expensive works by that particular painter. Yet we keep hoping and, ultimately, because it’s art, not all judgments regarding what is a ten are the same. This 1859 landscape by Edward Gay, painted at age 22 in Albany, while studying with James Hart, is a ten. Gay’s style, like many of his generation, evolved away from pure Hudson River work and adopted the aesthetic of Tonalism or Barbizon. There are very few of these early ambitious pure Hudson River works by Gay, and this one must rank among the very top. One of the best eyes among the private dealers, Mark Lasalle, told me about this piece, which he had just bought back from a collector he had sold it to some years earlier, and I was able to acquire it in 2002. Early in my collecting experience, a wily old New Yorker said, “You’re better off with a great example by a second-tier artist than a mediocre example from a top-tier painter.” I agree… most of the time.