Considering the Covid-19 maelstrom in which we find ourselves surrounded, I take great pleasure in having to share some happy news by giving a shout out to our favorite local artist Gari Melchers. A work by Melchers entitled Snow Scene is included in an exhibition of paintings by the leading practitioners of American impressionism. I savor the news because nowadays Melchers rarely makes the cut. In fact, the Huntington Museum of Art, the institution holding this important collection, has chosen to make their Melchers a signature publicity piece. Just yesterday I received a handsome oversized postcard picturing Snow Scene. It announces the opening of the exhibition American Impressionism, now on display through July 5, 2020, at the Huntington, West Virginia, museum. Snow Scene is one among a large collection of impressionist works gifted by Huntington founder, Herbert Fitzpatrick. An article about the exhibition featured in the February 2020 issue of American Art Review also included an illustration of Melchers’ Snow Scene.
American impressionism was originally disparaged as shoddy workmanship not expected to outlive the generation of its proponents. Ironically, it has been highly prized by collectors and the market for the last hundred years. Many Americans painters brought the style back to the States following their training in Europe, armed with the mandate to paint their own American scene rather than the ubiquitous scenes of French poppy fields and packed beer gardens.
Like their French counterparts, American impressionists painted in all seasons and varieties of light in brilliantly saturated colors. Most favored jewel-toned, warm climate scenes, while others specialized in a limited color palette for depicting winter scenes. Melchers was drawn to all seasons, habitually wandering the banks of the Rappahannock River, down the alleys of old Falmouth, and along the heights overlooking the sleepy village just below his house to capture distinctly American settings. Melchers’ Snow Scene depicts a still familiar Falmouth, Virginia, scene.
According to local Falmouth artist and resident, Marcia Chaves,
“The overall perspective [of the painted scene] looks from Lloyd Taylor’s property up the creek toward Washington St. . . . In the foreground is the Miss Julia Payne house (she and Ivan modeled for Gari Melchers) with its shed overlooking Falls Run . . . . next, in the middle ground is the “lower” studio of the stone house Melchers once used [now the Chaves’ home] , then the upper levels with two windows visible. . . . Notice that there is a reddish tinge to the house, which can still be seen on some of the sandstone today. It must have been plastered and painted on the exterior at one time, and there are still traces of that color visible. . . . That leaves the house in the background. When Juan and I moved to the Stone House in 1972 – two weeks before the Agnes flood- there was a frame building, the Brooks house . . . across the street that was Anne Brooks Brauer’s father’s store. Anne said she grew up there and as a child spent late nights watching the parties and dances [across the street] in the Stone House. That building was torn down several years later.”
It’s wonderful to be able to look back at old Falmouth through the eyes of Gari Melchers, and even better to witness this strong appreciation for his work and the good company in which he is remembered!