A Sailor and His Sweetheart

Artist: Gari Melchers (1860-1932)
Historical period(s)
Oil on canvas
H x W: 147 x 127 cm (57 7/8 x 50 in)
United States
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Oil painting

interior, lovers, portrait, United States

From 1898-1899 to 1913
Gari Melchers (1860-1932), from 1898-1899 to February 1913 [1]

From 1913 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Gari Melchers on February 13, 1913 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] Object file, folder sheet.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Gari Melchers (C.L. Freer source) 1860-1932


Although he was born in Detroit, Gari Melchers spent much of his youth in Germany where he studied at the Royal Academy.  After studio work at the Ecole des Beaux-arts in Paris, he moved to Egmond, Holland, a small fishing village on the North Sea where he painted this young sailor and his fiancee in 1898-99.

The simplicity of his neighbors fascinated Melchers, and the sturdy, hardworking inhabitants of Egmond had a lasting impact upon the subject matter during the fifteen years that he worked in Holland. The artist observed the Dutch people at their daily tasks, transferring these impressions to the canvas with great attention to detail and qualities of texture.  His works are filled with sympathetic portraits of young mothers with their children and church congregations at prayer.

Melcher's early works such as A Sailor and His Sweetheart are solidly and compactly modeled with a well-controlled brushstroke. The artist built up his forms with a rather thick application of pigments. Later works, on the other hand, while still quite heavily painted, employ a greater looseness and sketchlike quality. A quick, impressionistic brushstroke was quite appropriately used to reneder the landscapes and intimate views which Melchers later saw near his estate, called Belmont, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he lived out his later years.

Melchers undertook careful prepatory studies before embarking upon a large canvas like A Sailor and His Sweetheart. A very handsome pastel drawing of the sailor's head and an equally fine oil sketch for the young woman is preserved at Belmont.

This painting was immediately exhibited at the Paris Salon after it was completed by the artist. From Paris it went to the Carnegie Insitute where it was shown and purchased by the trustees for their permanent collection. After the work was returned to Melchers, it was purchased by Freer.

Published References
  • Jewel City: Art from San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Exh. cat. .
  • Gari Melchers, Henriette Lewis-Hind. Gari Melchers, Painter. New York. pl. 27.
  • Christian Brinton. Impressions of the Art at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco, 1915: American Painting at the Panama-Pacific Exposition. New York. cat. 3678.
  • Christian Brinton. Paintings by Gari Melchers. Detroit and Washington. cat. 34.
  • Burns A. Stubbs. Paintings, Pastels, Drawings, Prints, and Copper Plates by and Attributed to American and European Artists, Together with a List of Original Whistleriana, in the Freer Gallery of Art. vol. 1, no. 2, 2nd ed. Washington, 1967. pl. 6.
  • Gari Melchers. A Sailor and His Sweetheart. vol. 43 Philadelphia, December 1926. p. 26.
  • Gari Melchers (1860-1932): Selections from the Mary Washington College Collection. Fredericksburg, VA. pp. 30-33.
  • Diane Lesko. Gari Melchers: A Retrospective Exhibition. Exh. cat. St. Petersburg, FL, March 11, 1990 - May 2, 1991. pp. 57-58, fig. 5.
  • unknown title. vol. 13, no. 5 Chicago, May 1919. p. 75.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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