Gari Melchers (1860 - 1932)


The Hunters, circa 1925

oil on canvas

Born in Detroit to German immigrants, Gari Melchers (1860 – 1932) grew to become one of the most respected artists of his generation, working as a portraitist, muralist, and landscape painter. He received early art instruction from his father, a professional sculptor. At the age of seventeen, he continued his art studies at the Dusseldorf Academy and, later, at the Academie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. 

Melchers settled in Holland, where he became a key member of the expatriate artist community. He soon achieved recognition for his talents, with paintings exhibited in the Paris Salons of 1884 and 1886. His early work was rooted in traditional painting techniques, but by the 1890s, Melchers began to experiment with the looser brushwork emerging in the Impressionist movement. The Grand Prize at the 1889 Paris Universal Exhibition was presented jointly to Melchers and John Singer Sargent, the first American painters honored with this prestigious award. 

Melchers left Europe ahead of World War I and established a studio in New York City. He was among the most internationally acclaimed American artists of the period, receiving a number of important portrait commissions, including that of President Theodore Roosevelt. 

In 1916, Gari and Corinne Melchers, his wife of thirteen years, purchased Belmont, a Georgian mansion on twenty-seven acres along the Rappahannock River in Virginia. Melchers staged The Hunters on the grounds of his beloved Belmont, with the viewer situated at the highest point overlooking the river. His models were Mason Dillon, Melchers’ groundskeeper, and Dillon’s father-in-law. Despite his choice of traditional subject matter, Melchers’ cool tones evoke the winter light, while his radical juxtapositions of purples, greens, and oranges place this work firmly in the modern era.