Gari Melchers


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Painter. Known for portraits, figure studies, and genre scenes, he also painted religious subjects, as well as murals attuned to the prevailing taste for ideal themes. Versatile and cosmopolitan, he lived in Europe during much of his career and achieved an international reputation. Born in Detroit, Julius Garibaldi Melchers mastered the essentials of the academic tradition at the Royal Academy in Düsseldorf, which he entered shortly after his seventeenth birthday. Four years later, in 1881, he moved to Paris, where he studied at the Académie Julian. Although impressionism intrigued him, his work demonstrates a stronger attraction to the example of such painters as Jules Bastien-Lepage, who combined careful figure construction with more painterly, atmospheric settings. Choosing to remain in Europe when he completed his training, in 1884 he settled in the Dutch art colony of Egmond, on the North Sea about twenty-five miles from Amsterdam. There he painted picturesque local subjects, typically unsophisticated peasant life treated with appreciation for simplicity and piety. Sojourning often in Paris during the 1890s, he became attuned to symbolist currents there and to postimpressionist styles of painting, which generated a decorative tendency in his work. The example of his friend Pierre Puvis de Chavannes particularly influenced the flattened design and subdued colors of Melchers's mural commissions for Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition (1893) and for Washington, D.C.'s new Library of Congress (1896). Around the turn of the century he painted a number of biblical subjects, overtly extending the implied religious content of some earlier peasant works. A substantial number of mother-and-child images to varying degrees invoke the Christian Madonna theme. After marriage in 1903, he painted domestic interiors and garden scenes in a brighter, more loosely brushed impressionist manner. Concurrently, he developed an active portrait practice, generally retaining a more conservative, disciplined approach for these commissions. Melchers lived in New York from 1905 until 1909, when he accepted an invitation to teach at the art academy in Weimar. When World War I erupted in 1914, he left Germany, returning permanently a few months later to the United States. While retaining a studio in New York, from 1916 he made his home at Belmont, a late-eighteenth-century property overlooking the Rappahannock River in Stafford County, near Fredericksburg, Virginia. This locality and the nearby countryside inspired many later works. In the 1920s he also completed murals for the Detroit Public Library and the Missouri state capitol. Melchers remained active and much honored until his death at Belmont. A National Historic Landmark administered by Fredericksburg's University of Mary Washington, the home, studio, and gardens today comprise a public memorial, featuring a large collection of the artist's work. An early mentor, his father JuliusMelchers (1829–1909), was a leading Detroit sculptor. Before arriving there in the 1850s, he trained as an apprentice in his native Prussia and later studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Among his best-known works, four over-life-size figures of the area's French founders (1874; now installed on the campus of Wayne State University) graced the city hall facade. He was also known for wood sculptures and other items, including elaborately carved furniture and such functional emblems as shop figures.


Subjects: Art.

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