The Gari Melchers Home and Studio in Falmouth held a free open house to celebrate the artist’s life, his works and the arrival of spring. According to Belmont Curator Joanna Catron over 300 people attended the event on Sunday, April 15.
Though numbers were high on the day of the free open house, Belmont struggles for big turnouts during other times of the year, according to Catron.
“We have this open house to show people the great treasure that we have,” said Catron. “Nobody has ever had a bad day when they come to an open house.”
The 26-acre estate is open to the public and guests can explore the house, studio, galleries, gardens and trails. An eclectic array of 1,677 pieces of Melchers’ work can be found at his home and studios at Belmont according to the Gari Melchers Home and Studio website.
Melchers was an early twentieth-century painter who studied under many artists such as Jules Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger.
As a naturalist painter, Melchers often depicted the working class in everyday life. He favored painting local figures and buildings, but focused his attention on biblical and spiritual themes toward the end of his career.
Melchers became one of the leading American portrait painters of his time, and painted Theodore Roosevelt, Mellon and Vanderbilt. He also experimented with nudism in his pieces, including the painting, “Young Woman at Her Toilet.”
“My favorite painting changes all the time,” said Cathy Stiks, a 2006 University of Mary Washington alumni who majored in studio art.
According to their website, Melchers and his wife Corinne bought the Georgian-style Belmont Estate as their country retreat.
The main part of the home was built in the 1790s and Melchers bought the house in 1916, restoring it to its modern state.
“The land, location and view are my favorite part of the tour so far,” said Isabel Madrid, a resident of Fredericksburg for eight years. Madrid, like many other guests, was a first-time visitor of the property at the event.
UMW, which now administers the estate and its programs, officially opened the property for visitation in 1975.
“Gari Melchers didn’t live a scandalous life. He lived quietly as a painter, so he’s been forgotten. But his art is starting to spark interest again,” said De’Onne Scott, a guide at the estate.
According to Scott, one Gari Melchers painting sold for nearly $1 million.
“Melchers never cut off his ear, but he was a natural when it came to painting,” said Scott.
The house and grounds are packed with original paintings, pottery, furniture, dishes and rugs. Even Corinne Melchers’ reading glasses remain in the house.
“It’s such an unusual site. It looks as if they [the Melchers] just walked out on day and never came back,” said Catron.
Catron emphasizes her desire to make Belmont a bigger attraction for locals and tourists.
“It’s a very unique property that we wish more people would come see,” said Catron.
The Gari Melchers home and studio also offers art classes for children ages (6-12) and ages (2-5). The home is also used for summer camps and field trips. Art workshops are also available for adults.
Belmont is open to the public every day, except on Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is $10, but free for UMW students and staff.