Drink in the Creativity

paint

On Thursday, August 20th, PB Mares, a regional accounting and business consulting firm, held a retreat for its administrative staff. In the morning they had a conference and after lunch, they decided to do a Wine & Design event. This is the first one we have held here at Gari Melchers Home & Studio, but hopefully not the last! If you’ve never heard of Wine & Design, it’s a popular new party idea. “Our wine and paint parties are designed to offer you a chance to peek into your creative side during a fun night out on the town. We provide almost everything you’ll need: paint, canvases, brushes, corkscrews and cups. All you have to bring is an open mind and your favorite beverage.”

New LocationWine and Design On Wheels can bring the party to any private venues such as houses, corporate offices, event centers, and more. They can also host the party at restaurants, bars, and wineries! They offer private parties and public parties where anyone can sign up! In a few weeks we will actually be neighbors with their new studio! Michelle Flynn, the owner of Wine & Design Fredericksburg is opening a studio on Washington Street (down the street from us) where you can hold your party or sign up for one of theirs!

I have been seeing my friends posting pictures of themselves at different restaurants with wine glasses and their surprisingly, very good, painted canvases of sunsets, crabs, umbrellas, and flowers. Now, I’m not saying that my friends aren’t capable of painting these subjects, but attending an all-women’s college, we all dabbled in arts and crafts quite a bit, and I know some of those ladies can’t paint THAT well. This is why I was so excited when the women of PB Mares told us they wanted to host a Wine & Design party here! I wanted to see how this was all done and how my not so artsy friends, were somehow now painting like Gari Melchers 🙂

PaintMichelle, the instructor Jayme, and her helper, Timmy all arrived at Belmont with 21 canvases, brushes, and paint. The canvases already had sunflowers sketched on them with a pencil, so that the party goers had an outline to follow. Timmy came around and squirted paint on everyone’s plates. The paint bottles looked like water bottles which make it really simple and mess free! Whenever someone needed more paint or a different color, she would just raise her paint brush and Timmy would go over and squirt some more paint on her plate!

collageJayme had a finished sunflower painting on an easel for the women to look at, as well as painting one with them! She would talk them through the painting, explaining what strokes to make with the paint brush and what color to use, step by step. If anyone had any questions or needed any help, Jayme and Timmy were right there! I noticed that they didn’t squirt all the colors onto the plates at the start of the lesson; they waited until they are actually needed. I’m guessing this helps ensure that the paint doesn’t dry on the plate and it helps eager artists to not get too far ahead without instructions from the teacher.

Group Shot

The whole party took about 2 hours, which Timmy said is about the average time depending on the size of the group and the difficulty of the painting. When the PB Mares women were all finished, they went outside and took a group photo. Look how beautiful their sunflowers are. Everyone kept remarking on how much fun they had and how easy Wine & Design makes it. If you’re looking to have a team building retreat or a fun girl’s night, Wine & Design is a great option. And we can hold it for you right here at Gari Melchers Home & Studio, call (540) 654-1848 for more details about renting our pavilion!

Gari Melchers: Left or Right Handed?

Very often visitors to Belmont will see the many Gari Melchers self-portraits and paintings of him by other artists, as well as historical photographs, and ask us whether he painted with his left or right hand.

For many artists of earlier generations, before the advent of photography or whose self-portraits were limited to head and shoulders views, their  handedness  has been determined (as much as possible) through analysis of handwriting or the direction of brush strokes, or even by the shape and location of the thumb holes or paint remnants on surviving palettes.

Gari Melchers painting in his New York Studio
For Gari Melchers, who came of age during the expansion of popular photography in the late 19th century, the question is easy to answer.  Looking at a photo of Gari in his New York studio he is holding his brush in his right hand.

 

 

Portrait of an Artist in Profile, by Fritz Strobentz The Model, by Corinne Melchers

The same is true of two paintings of Gari by other artists.  Fritz Strobentz  painted a young Gari in a Dutch church and his wife Corinne painted him working at Belmont.

 

 

Self-Portrait with Hugo ReisingerThe one image that seems to confuse visitors is the painting currently on loan to Belmont from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, In the Studio, Hugo Reisinger and Gari Melchers.  In this painting, Gari seems to be painting with his left hand.  However, we must realize that he painted himself while looking in a mirror! Thus the orientation is reversed, as it is in all self-portraits painted from life (as opposed to using a photograph, which would show the correct orientation).

Gari Melchers was right handed.

 

Crimson Rambler

Another Ramblin’ Rose Graces Belmont

Crimson Rambler

Crimson Rambler

For a renowned figure painter like Gari Melchers, it was out of the ordinary to devote an entire canvas to the view of an empty garden, but the vision of a flourishing rose outside his own backdoor proved irresistible. The painting, which he titled The Crimson Rambler, will make a special appearance here at Belmont beginning February 28 through June 7, 2015, thanks to a generous loan from private collectors.

Gari Melchers painted The Crimson Rambler at his residence in Holland sometime around 1915. A rose arbor and a neighboring tree are the principal features of a cultivated garden setting.  Less prominent, but strategically placed at compositional center, is a statue at the far end of the lawn. The arbor is slightly off center, enhancing the illusion that given a few more steps one should pass directly into the garden through the arbor path. The arbor and tree served as frameworks upon which Melchers built up chromatically intensifying layers of pure, vibrating color, resulting in the “sensation” of a garden rather than the literal rendering of one, a key impressionist objective.

The Crimson Rambler is the first and only instance in which Melchers painted a pure garden piece. It’s a wonder that he didn’t paint the floral environment more often.  For an artist bent on painting in the language of impressionism, with its emphasis on rich color and open air painting to render the transitory effects of sunlight, what better subject than the lush variety of form and color offered by a garden.

Tea in the Garden

Tea in the Garden

But Melchers’ first love was the figure, and happily, he gave us equally pleasing glimpses into gardens adorned with fashionable ladies, probably the most popular impressionist motif of all. In his Tea in the Garden (private collection), a genteel group of women gather out-of-doors to enjoy their refreshment under the shelter of trees.  This isn’t a portrait of a garden per se, but it echoes the prevailing vogue for pictures of fresh air, sunlight and the beauties of nature in harmony with the beauty of womanhood.

Impressionism’s success among American artists was due in part to the emerging popularity of flower gardening and the Colonial garden revival movement that permeated American culture. In the many gardening publications that appeared, it was asserted that gardening and painting were parallel arts, so it’s not surprising to read of celebrated painters who designed their own gardens, if you will, as living canvases. That Melchers himself didn’t garden was immaterial. Living in Holland, Melchers was surrounded by a heavily cultivated natural world.  His wife was mad for playing in the dirt, an avocation begun in the early years of their married life when she tended roses, strawberry clumps, and fruit trees in their backyard.  And some of Melchers’ artist friends cultivated enchanting gardens, like the American painter of Dutch tulip fields, George Hitchcock, at his historic home called Schuylenburg.

Hitchcock's Putto

Hitchcock’s Putto

It was in Hitchcock’s garden that a moss-covered statue of a nude boy or “putto” presided over an old pond, a setting that so charmed Melchers he sat down to paint it on at least two occasions. In Lily Pond (private collection) two women in old-fashioned dress stand in a sunlit glade of trees at the far side of the pond. The picture consists of broadly painted touches of muted, atmospheric color that give the ladies, and the reflection their figures cast in the nearby pond, a phantom-like appearance suggestive of the property’s storied past. Lily Pond had just the kind of nostalgic overtones to suit the current taste for old gardens.

In My Garden

In My Garden

In My Garden (Butler Institute, Youngstown, Ohio), another view of the pond looking towards the gable end of the house at Schuylenburg, pictures three maids pausing in their duties to converse on the lawn.  Images of domestics at work in affluent settings connoted the prosperous lifestyle so valued by Americans in the Gilded Age.  The textured surface of the painting and its prismatic pattern of dappled sunlight evoke a rich tapestry effect characteristic of the best impressionist canvases.

House Under the Trees

House Under the Trees

Pictures reflecting the ease and idle hours of the leisure class had a ready market. Building on his successes in this vein, Melchers stepped into the front garden of Schuylenburg to paint another maid and his wife at play with her terrier under a glittering canopy of filtered sunlight.  They are surrounded by what appears to be an extravagance of flowering bushes, but whether or not they are in bloom is impossible to discern for the only surviving image I have in our archives is a black and white photograph of the canvas, entitled House under the Trees.  If anyone knows the whereabouts of the original, go ahead, make my day!

Putto

Putto

Melchers turned to the setting of his own backyard for inspiration. There Gari and Corinne Melchers installed their own painted wooden putto in the center of the lawn, in alignment with the arbor over which Mrs. Melchers trained the multiflora rose Turner’s Crimson Rambler, featured in the painting of the same name. Mrs. Melchers was justifiably proud of her crimson rambler, which probably explains why it served to frame a photograph of her in the garden with her terrier and the putto. Gari Melchers saw the possibilities presented by the photograph that undeniably led him to paint The Crimson Rambler.

Woman Reading by a Window

Woman Reading by a Window

The dog, his mistress and the profusely covered rose arbor served as the shimmering backdrop in another felicitous icon of domestic tranquility, Woman Reading by a Window (private collection).  Incidentally, if you didn’t already know, the couple brought the putto with them to Belmont where it survives today, though a bit worse for wear.  In 2010 it was faithfully copied in bronze and restored to its original location on the lawn by the Garden Club of Virginia.

The Unpretentious Garden

The Unpretentious Garden

In The Unpretentious Garden (Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, GA), the rear elevation of Melchers’ seventeenth-century Dutch cottage shares the stage with the figure of a maid watering the rose arbor and neighboring herbaceous border.  Mrs. Melchers is seated in a wicker chair in the foreground of the lawn, her fashionably shaded head bent over her sewing. She is an emblem of the era’s cult of female beauty, as decorous as the flowers in her garden. The rose arbor is centered in the composition, symbolizing as one art historian conjectured, nature and woman as beautiful, balanced and tamed.  Pictures like these were guaranteed commercial success, and the wide appeal of their well-developed Victorian message, not to mention Melchers’ preference for the human figure, might explain why he abandoned intimate views into gardens devoid of people and other distractions.

Once he returned to the United States, Melchers found much to appreciate in the gardens of Virginia, but from then on he only reproduced gardens in concert with the people who tended them or the buildings the gardens beautified. One example, owned by Belmont, The Grape Arbor, No. 1, will be displayed alongside The Crimson Rambler this spring.

The Grape Arbor, No. 1

The Grape Arbor, No. 1

Video

A Plein Air Artist’s Paradise

Artists of all types and ages are encouraged to use Belmont as the backdrop for their artistic pursuits.

Gari Melchers enjoyed plein air painting his entire career.  Of special note to us are the pictures he produced at or around Belmont, his Virginia country home from 1916 to 1932.  In some cases, the views he transferred to canvas are remarkably unchanged today.