Much to our delight, our conservators have been busily cranking out refurbished canvases this fall, thanks to generous gifts from the Margaret Walker Purinton Conservation Fund and our Giving Day contributors. Come see what your gifts have made possible!
Now on view are three of the latest to return from the labs, Portrait of a Lady and Young Boy, Little Girl from Brooklyn, and Study for Communion.
I’ve already written a blog post about the Portrait of a Lady and Young Boy, executed by an artist known only by his initials, “R.V.” Gari and Corinne Melchers were discriminating collectors of old master works, and this is a fine example. When I last saw the circa 1810 double portrait, its finish was dull and scratched and the charming details of the old lady and her grandson, their costumes and the well-appointed French Directoire interior were hard to appreciate. Today after restoration, the painting has been so superbly revived that it demands the audience move in for a closer examination. Frustratingly, it has been sitting captive in collection storage for what has seemed forever while framers tried and retried to fit it properly into new period-appropriate housing. The thing is finally accomplished, and the beautiful little oil on wood panel goes up in the house’s first-floor hall today!
Last year we discovered that Gari Melchers’ Little Girl from Brooklyn, painted around 1918, had developed three areas of paint loss requiring a conservator’s care. With the repairs made and a fresh coat of varnish, the painting of this red-headed working-class girl almost sings, demonstrating Melchers’ love of color as a primary means of expressing the upbeat aspirations of the Irish-American immigrant.
Early in his career, Gari Melchers established his reputation around monumental, multi-figural compositions depicting Dutch piety and old world custom and costume. The first of these to earn recognition was The Sermon (Smithsonian American Art Museum), his first commercial and critical success. He repeated the formula in Communion (Cornell University), but it lacked the anecdotal appeal and exquisite palette of the earlier picture, and the artist got bogged down with the placement of his congregants in their spartan setting. The oil study he prepared in preparation for the final Communion canvas is useful in understanding his methodology and is a witness to his struggles with the composition. The study was fairly beaten up, but a rest cure with the conservator has resulted in a stabilized record of this early effort. It and the Little Girl From Brooklyn are now on view in the artist’s studio.