Wife & Model

While headed to Italy on a transatlantic cruise ship in 1902 with her mother and younger brother, twenty-one year old art student Corinne Lawton Mackall writes in her diary,

I am prostrate and overjoyed at finding Gari Melchers’ name on the passenger list and keep all eyes open to see him.

Not only did she eventually see him, the two married a year later. During their courtship, Mr. Melchers wrote to “Peachy” saying,

Hopkinson Smith [the American artist] once said, ‘It takes two to paint a picture, one to paint it and the other fellow to hit him over the head with a club when it’s time to stop,’ and in the future, you will have to be the other fellow.

In turn, the newlywed Mrs. Gari Melchers, as she reminded her younger brother, confided to her mother in a letter that

Mr M says he would not have me if I didn’t like pictures [art]!

She quickly adds, “Don’t ever repeat such a thing though please —he might not like it.” Thus begins a marriage interwoven with both a love for each other and a love of art.

Corinne happily embraced her new expatriate life and busied herself setting up their Egmond-aan-den Hoef, Holland household. She seems to have more or less set aside any artistic goals she may have had to support her husband and his career. My colleague writes about this extensively in a fascinating blog post I encourage you to read.

Mrs. Melchers assisted Gari by sewing costumes, stretching canvases, “bric a bracing” for pieces that might eventually do service as props, wrangling models of all ages, and, the topic of this post, posing for her well-known husband.

Posing for the world-renowned artist must have been on at least a few minds though, because just a month after their wedding, Corinne writes to her mother,

I have spent two very interesting afternoons at the studio in the last few days and the big picture is coming on finely. His models are going fishing soon and then he will begin to paint yrs. truly as you had hoped.

She seems quite pleased to be chosen to sit again for one of Gari’s pictures when the native Dutch models that were brought in didn’t look stereotypically “Dutch enough.” It seems Corinne, with her blue eyes and fair complexion, fit the bill nicely. Again, the young bride writes to her mother in May of 1903 to recall the event,

…he [Gari] wanted to begin one [picture] of a Dutch girl like a tiny sketch he had made years ago. So we had a couple of girls to come and and try the pose but they didn’t look the part one bit—not Dutch enough—then I in trying part of the dress on was found to be the very Dutchiest thing imaginable. So your daughter is now sitting as a Holland peasant like this with a white cap tied tight under her chin. Oh she looks the part.

Excerpt from Corinne’s May 1903 letter to her mother with diminutive sketch in the lower left-hand corner of what would later become La Brabanconne, GMHS Archives
sketch of cat

Even the grey cat gets some special attention from Gari.

Voilà, the finished painting, below!

La Brabanconne by Gari Melchers
La Brabanconne, by Gari Melchers, 1904, Annmary Brown Memorial, Brown University

Another painting in 1905 that Corinne sat for caused quite a stir. Here she shares all the details with her mother as the picture progresses over time.

Gari has been making studies all the afternoon for my white satin dress portrait, and finally ended with one that is a dream! Even you would be satisfied that the costume, surroundings, etc, are all that could be wished for. I am in profile with cherry colored crepe sash around my head —in the background a light grey door with a strip of rose-spotted wall paper showing at one side. The scheme is really lovely and the making of a gorgeous picture.

The picture is getting on nicely —I wish you could see me. I shall take a photo of it when it is finished.

The portrait continues to go splendidly and is the living image of me.

Here’s the final product—splendid indeed!

Mrs Corinne Melchers
Mrs. Gari Melchers, by Gari Melchers, 1905, Detroit Athletic Club

It seems fitting that this painting continues to reach a wider audience in wedding pictures taken at the Detroit Athletic Club.

Corinne’s distinctive profile continued to grace Gari Melchers’ work for the rest of his life. Till the end, a perfect pair and a perfect model.

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