By CLINT SCHEMMER

FOR A DOSE of cheer guaranteed to take your mind off these trying times, hustle on over to Belmont in Falmouth.

Today, Gari Melchers Home and Studio takes the wraps off two superb new exhibitions that belong on anyones must-see list.

The first, The Unpretentious Garden, showcases some of the late artists finest and most colorful impressionist works.

The second, Painting Highlights From the House, displays selected pieces from the art collection assembled by the globe-trotting Melchers and his wife, Corinne.

Normally, these treasures hang on the walls of their historic home, which is undergoing repairs this winter.

That the two special exhibitions are displayed in the sunlit galleries of the stone-walled studio that Melchers built at his estate in southern Stafford County adds considerably to ones enjoyment.

The change of venue affords visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to closely inspect the couples personal favorites. You can view these artworkswhich run the gamut from old masters to Melchers contemporariesin a way that would be impossible on normal tours of their home, when foot traffic must be restricted to preserve Belmonts priceless furnishings.

And, happily, this twin bill is a bargain. Because the home is closed to visitors this month and next, Belmont has cut its adult admission fee by halfand will open its gates at no charge on Wednesdays through February.

UNPRETENTIOUS

The Unpretentious Garden is Belmonts fourth Spotlight Exhibition since early 2007. Beginning with four newly conserved works two winters ago, each temporary show has revealed artistic gems by Gari Melchers rarely or never before seen here.

So it is with this new show, which takes its title from a painting of the same name. On special loan from the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Ga., The Unpretentious Garden has been a favorite of many people for decades.

It is appearing at Belmont for the first time.

A bright, lovely and peaceful scene painted from life in the garden of the Melchers home in Egmond aan den Hoef, Holland, it is the artists most widely reproduced work.

Gari Melchersborn in Detroit and classically trained in Pariswas lured to Holland by another American artist, George Hitchcock. Together they founded an artists colony in Egmond aan Zee, a seaside fishing village near Amsterdam, and its neighboring community, Egmond aan den Hoef, in 1884.

The idyllic Garden depicts Corinne Melchers mending clothes in the backyard of their 18th-century tile-roofed Dutch home as a climbing rose blooms on an arbor and a maid wields a watering can.

The couple had just purchased the house (which still stands) and had recently married, which may help account for some of the paintings blissful feeling.

Another Melchers painting of the same garden, named The Crimson Rambler after the arbor rose, recently sold at auction to an anonymous Virginia collector for a five-figure price, Belmont curator Joanna Catron said.

Garden and the paintings accompanying it exemplify Melchers turn-of-the-century transition to the vibrant color and loose brushwork of impressionism from the more somber, realistic style of his works on Dutch peasant life.

Reflecting his new marital status and developing Gilded Age social attitudes, Melchers began depicting modern women in stylish interiors and gardens.

The artists evolution in styles is clear in the Spotlight Exhibition, Catron said.

He marries in 1903, and you really see a change in his first married year and thereafter, she observed. Suddenly, hes painting modern women in affluent interiors or in gardensthe genteel subject rather than the peasant painting.

And his landscapes become much brighter. Theyre more impressionistic. They have much more texture. So theres this new decorative concern after he marries.

In all, the exhibit is a great introduction to Melchers most charming and approachable work, showing the artist at the peak of his powers.

COLLECTION OF A LIFETIME

For a broader perspective on the work and life of this distinguished painter and his young wifewho had been an art student of his friend Hitchcock in Egmond aan Zee before they metone need merely stroll into the next gallery.

Here is one fine piece after anotherthe result of the couples eclectic taste in art, which spanned centuries and many styles.

There are portraits of Gari and his parents, a childhood portrait of Corinne and her brother Leonard, and a number of works by their artist friendsincluding the greatly talented Hitchcock and Walter MacEwen.

The gallerys north end juxtaposes two of Corinnes worksa rural Dutch landscape and a picture within a picture portrait of her husband at work in a studiowith the vivid Brabant Bride, a painting by Gari of the same model whom his wife shows him committing to canvas.

Other works paired by the curator reveal fascinating art-history stories.

And there are real masterpieces here: an incredibly real 17th-century still life of fruits, flowers and exotic shells and insects from the Dutch Golden Age, attributed to Balthasar van der Ast; Girl With a Fan, a 1626 Flemish portrait attributed to Wybrant de Geest; and the Mary Cassatt-like A Sailing Party attributed to Berthe Morisot, a French artist who modelled for Edouard Manet and joined the impressionists at the invitation of Edgar Degas.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of northern baroque painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, shook when shown the still life (which he identified) during a visit to Belmont, Catron recalled.

And that was before it underwent conservation.

Last but certainly not least, Belmonts most modest gallery holds more delights collected by the coupleincluding works by Rodin, Hitchcock, Johannes Bosboom and German painter Henry Vogel, as well as important American miniatures by Raphaelle Peale and Henry Benbridge that portray Corinne (ne Mackall) Melchers ancestors.

The docents are excited about this show because we dont usually get to see these paintings so close up, volunteer Julie Olsen said. Its really a pleasure to enjoy them under such good conditions.

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029

cschemmer@freelancestar.com

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