Gari Melchers (1860-1932)
Young Mother
signed 'Gari Melchers.' (center left)
oil on canvas
34¾ x 25½ in. (88.3 x 64.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1892-95.
The artist.
Mrs. J.M. Longyear.
Son of the above, Scotland, by 1933.
Private collection, Switzerland.
Official Catalogue of the International Art Exhibition of the Munich Partners Union Succession, Munich, Germany, 1895, p. 26, no. 220c (as Junge Mutter).
A. Proust, The Salon of 1899, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 1899, p. 77, illustrated.
Ziegler, "Pennsylvania Academy Exhibition," Brush and Pencil, vol. 5, 1900, p. 267.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Catalogue of the Thirteenth Annual Exhibition of Oil Paintings and Sculpture by American Artists, Chicago, Illinois, 1900, p. 33, no. 156.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Catalogue of the Fourteenth Annual Exhibition of Oil Paintings and Sculpture by American Artists, Chicago, Illinois, 1901, p. 38, no. 242.
H. Monroe, "The Paintings of Gari Melchers," The House Beautiful, January 1902, pp. 97-8, illustrated (as St. Gudule).
Carnegie Institute, Catalogue of the Eleventh Annual Exhibition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1907, no. 302 or no. 313.
[Possibly]Munich, Germany, International Art Exhibition of the Munich Partners Union "Succession," August 11, 1895, no. 220c (as Junge Mutter).
Paris, The Salon, 1899.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, Fourth Annual Exhibition, November 2, 1899-January 1, 1900.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 69th Annual Exhibition, January 15-Febraury 24, 1900.
Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute of Chicago, Thirteenth Annual Exhibition of Oil Paintings and Sculpture by American Artists, October 30-December 9, 1900, no. 156.
Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute of Chicago, Fourteenth Annual Exhibition of Oil Paintings and Sculpture by American Artists, October 29-December 8, 1901, no. 242.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, Eleventh Annual Exhibition, April 11-June 13, 1907, no. 302 or no. 313.

Lot Essay

In this poignant work entitled Young Mother, Gari Melchers portrays a mother and child, a favorite theme throughout the artist's career, in a form suggestive of religious imagery. Evoking past images of the Madonna and Child and introducing the compositional device of a porcelain plate as a halo. Melchers creates a radiant image of a parent's eternal love. "Melchers's large religious genre paintings were major achievements for the young artist and still retain their original depth of meaning and expressive power. The artist's forthright and realistic style strongly conveys the implicit moral content that underlies the subject matter. The peasants are depicted with an uncompromising honesty that is the stylistic equivalent of their personal sincerity...The carefully orchestrated compositions suggest the ordered structure that religious belief brings to experience." (J.G. Dreiss, Gari Melchers: His Works in the Belmont Collection, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1984, p. 16)

Melchers was born in Detroit in 1860, five years after his family emigrated from Germany. At the age of seventeen, Melchers returned to Germany and enrolled at the Düsseldorf Academy where he was trained in the academic tradition under Eduard von Gebhardt, one of the major religious painters of his time. The religious aura that is instilled in so much of Melchers's work, including Young Mother, is rooted in his Düsseldorf education. Gebhardt not only provided the artist with excellent technical instruction, but also prompted a thematic direction to Melcher's art. Combining "traditional religious imagery with the new concern with the individual dignity and the simple way of life of the peasant, recasting traditional biblical pictorialization, especially of the life of Christ, in contemporary, albeit peasant, terms...these characters and settings have endured virtually unchanged over the course of history, the biblical stories are thus rendered as both timeless and contemporary." (W.H. Gerdts, Gari Melchers: His Works in the Belmont Collection, p. xvii) After Germany, Melchers moved to Paris to study at the Académie Julian before being admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts. For Melchers, his studies in Paris were instrumental in eliminating the dark, typically German palette from his paintings and instilling a lighter, more Impressionistic touch.

A religious revival in art and literature took place at the end of the nineteenth century, affecting the avant-garde and conservatives alike including artists as varied as Paul Gaugin, Vincent Van Gogh and James Ensor. The significance of Melchers' religious themed works was recognized immediately. The Sermon (1886, National Museum of American Art, Washington D.C.) received honorable mention in the Paris Salon of 1886 and won Melchers a First-Class Gold Medal at Amsterdam and at Munich. The Sermon was exhibited in the Paris Universal Exposition along with The Communion (1889, Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences, Cornell, New York), which won the Grand Prize, a mark of distinction shared with John Singer Sargent. This was the first time this honor was bestowed upon American artists.

By the 1890s, after several years spent in Paris, Melchers' style evolved. Religion is not portrayed in such an overt manner in works from this decade. Rather, it is alluded to, as evidenced by the plate suggestive of a halo in Young Mother. Melchers spent a great deal of time with the Symbolist painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes which shapes the artist's approach to his compositions: "The impact of Puvis's style is evident in these works in their shallow space, which is limited by the positioning of the figures in the immediate foreground. Further, elements that fill the upper area of the compositions and the girl's embroidered cape form a linear pattern which is read across the surface rather than into depth. The shallow space of the paintings contrasts with the more emphatic illusionism of Melchers' earlier works." (Gari Melchers: His Works in the Belmont Collection, p. 23)

The subject of mother and child first entered Melchers' body of work in the 1890s. His deep fascination with the concepts of maternity prompted the artist to return to his favorite theme repeatedly over the next forty years. Reviewers of Melchers' art have consistently agreed that the mother-and-child paintings are among his finest. Christian Breton, a contemporary critic, wrote, "Wholly endearing in their frank community of feeling are 'The Family' now in the National Gallery of Berlin, and the 'Maternity' of the Luxembourg, the latter showing a blonde mother in flowered cap and cape holding in her arms a serious blue-eyed infant. It is in pictures such as these as well as in the later and still more simple and direct 'Mother and Child' which has found its home in America that Melchers strikes his truest, most profound note." (as quoted in Gari Melchers: His Works in the Belmont Collection, p. 33)

A related work by the artist, a gouache rendering of Young Mother, executed circa 1895, is presently in the collection of the Annmary Brown Memorial, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

More from Important American Paintings, Drawings And Sculpture

View All
View All