Yvonne Melchers is a Dutch realist artist who uses oils as her preferred medium to create a variety of subject matter in an unequivocally personal painting style. Her lavishly detailed paintings of subjects that are both intimate and universal are infused with a luminosity that emphasizes ambiance. More importantly, there’s an ethereal quality to her striking compositions that endows them with enchanting delicacy and understated elegance.
As a young woman, Melchers embarked on an administrative career in the health care sector and raised a son as a single mother. Despite studying at the Amsterdam Rietveld Art Academy in her early twenties, she did not seriously dedicate herself to professional painting until she reached the age of 50. Today, Melchers considers herself a self-taught artist and is eager to make up for lost time. Her dedication to her art is passionate and all-consuming — her extensive oeuvre is a visual testimony of her steadfast commitment to her talent.
During the past two decades she has divided her creative time between her studios in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Siena, Italy. Both countries have left indelible impressions on her psyche, and as a consequence guide her choice of subject matter — both on a cultural as well as a topographical level, but in particular on the expression of the characteristic atmospheric light she captures so masterly.
Melchers’ distinctive painting style can be described as loose yet well-defined. Her clearly visible brushstrokes — bold yet refined — exquisitely unite to form highly realistic imagery that preserves a harmonious painterly quality. The development and execution of her technique have clearly been inspired by artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn and Lucian Freud, yet Melchers’ impasto tends to be rather more delicate, subtle, and precise — perhaps more feminine and graceful in nature — giving her painting surfaces an opulent yet understated bas-relief texture.
Another noteworthy trait is that Melchers has adopted the restricted palette traditionally used by the eminent French Impressionist Claude Monet. From 1860 onwards, Monet completely abandoned the use of earth tones and dark colors and worked with a limited palette that reinforced pure, bright colors. Asked in 1905 what colors he used, Monet replied, “The point is to know how to use the colors, the choice of which is, when all is said and done, a matter of habit. Anyway, I use flake white, cadmium yellow, vermilion, deep madder, cobalt blue, emerald green, and that’s all.”
After reading Monet’s letters describing his choice of pigments, Melchers experimented and was instantly convinced of their potential and suitability to her craft. In 2007 she fully adopted Monet’s palette as her own with striking results — she has never looked back since. She loves that these few colors are easily organized on her palette and allow her to blend an entire progression of hues, from subtle earth tones, sophisticated neutrals, and nuanced greys, to vivid hues, distinctive shades, and elegant pastels.
Melchers doesn’t shy away from breaking the tacit rules the artworld continues to impose on artists, refusing to limit herself to just one subject matter — one single easily labeled genre many artists get trapped into, to make marketing easier for galleries. Instead, she boldly embraces a wide variety of themes and formats that allow her to focus on different narratives, moods, and subject matter. Of course, this makes it a little harder to classify the multifaceted Melchers — she’s a portrait, figure, landscape, and still life artist, notably excelling on all fronts. The most significant identifying factor is her signature painting style, which is easily recognizable and can be appreciated in all of her work.
Melchers is a versatile artist who organizes her paintings into ongoing series, each with a specific theme. These include Dutch coastal landscapes in the series The North Sea, intimate interior settings in the series Rooms with a View, portraits of modern Italian men and boys in historical costumes in the series Siena Palio Portraits, quintessential Mediterranean subject matter in the series Italian Scenes, and a series of small format Still Lifes. Melchers’ paintings often include two or more different genres, for example, many of her portraits also contain landscapes, birds, and/or still life objects — all of which enjoy the same artistic exactitude and dedication.
Each theme within each series develops over time, incorporating new ideas, settings, and her fascination with the ambiance and colors linked to different geographic regions. Having lived and worked in both the Netherlands and Italy, Melchers’ paintings are bathed in either the recognizable blueish northern light of her birthplace, or the warm earthy glow of her beloved Mediterranean. Melchers handles light exceedingly well, giving each of her paintings a distinct and unique atmosphere that elevates and reinforces the subject matter.
Melchers’ repertoire includes painting commissions for private collectors as well as public institutions. Whether a commission involves a bespoke portrait or other subject matter, she is fastidious in regards to her process. She enjoys her collectors’ involvement and collaboration but prefers to work without deadlines, valuing quality and personal satisfaction over quantity and speed.
Over the years Melchers has proven to be a prolific artist — despite her punctilious, time-consuming approach, her patience and discipline allow her to steadily continue to add new work to each of her series. In order to illustrate her noteworthy range of subject matter, her fluency of expression, and her masterful handling of colors and brushstrokes, I will show a few paintings from each series, trusting that those interested in seeing her entire body of work will visit her website.
The North Sea
Born and raised in Haarlem, The Netherlands, Melchers grew up near the Dutch coast where she spent many childhood summers. Unsurprisingly, the North Sea enjoys a prominent place among her landscapes, as well as her portraits and still lifes. She captures its chilly grey waters and characteristically low breakers bathed in cool northern light, invoking the fragrance of salty sea water and the excited cries of seagulls carried on the wind. The northern light in these coastal landscapes and beach scenes varies according to the seasons and is highly recognizable for those who have experienced the weather and coastal regions of the Low Countries.
Occasionally Melchers paints closeups of beach sand. Enchanting small format still lifes representing delightful treasures that have washed up onto the beach; multicolored sea shells, weathered sea glass, lost feathers, a discarded exoskeleton of a crustacean, and other visually interesting minutiae. Melchers’ affection for the Dutch coast is obvious in her paintings; her gaze not only reaches upwards and outwards, but also looks downwards. Her paintings celebrate the rapidly changing skies, the distant views stretching across the grey epeiric sea, and even include the unexpected riches found underfoot, held amidst the carefully painted granules of sand.
Siena Palio Portraits
Melchers lived and worked near Siena, Italy, on and off, for fifteen years. That important life period inevitably inspired her to paint its people, culture, and landscapes, and also deeply influenced her expression of bright colors and sunny Mediterranean light. Her series, entitled Siena Palio, is a celebration of the Palio di Siena, a horse race that has been held twice yearly since 1287.
A pageant, the Corteo Storico, precedes the race, where modern-day Italian boys and men dress up in wigs and traditional costumes for the historical procession, carrying colorful banners representing a particular district of the city of Siena. Fascinated by this medieval event, Melchers pays tribute to it by superbly capturing the portraits of these smart Italians showing off their beautiful regalia, as well as the alluring sensuality, pride, and passion expressed on their handsome faces. The Siena Palio series is Melchers’ tribute to her beloved Siena, and is marked by the exquisitely detailed depiction of extravagantly patterned or embroidered fabrics in a kaleidoscope of dazzling colors.
Melchers deep affection for Italy is also palpable in her series entitled Italian Scenes, in which she captures a variety of highly distinctive Italian landscapes. The quintessential Mediterranean subject matter ranges from closely cropped close-ups of Venetian canals, to the sweltering summer views of a Tuscan hillside, to the distant mountains viewed from a beach on the Mediterranean Sea. Melchers represents this diversity of scenes with equal mastery — a testimony to her firm grasp on technical skills, superb use of her limited color palette, and her strong passion for her chosen subject matter. All these paintings are personal to the artist and often include inconspicuous autobiographical narratives, such as the solitary glass and wristwatch left on the table in the painting entitled The Terrace / Tuscan Summer shown above.
Melchers includes realist still lifes in her extensive repertoire as well; small format paintings presenting fruits or flowers in vases that enjoy the same careful dedication to delicate impasto as her larger pieces. These exquisite still lifes look quite traditional at first glance, but their delicately vivid color schemes, diffuse lighting, and candid expression makes them elegant and contemporary. There’s a sense of uplifting joy as they honor the beauty in commonplace objects in which delectable details — such as the softness of a petal, the waxy radiance of fruit, or the dancing highlights on metal — catch the viewer’s eye with a comforting surge of joyous familiarity.
Rooms with a View
The intimate interior settings in Melchers’ series Rooms with a View are among her most successful and noteworthy. This series is inspired by Pieter de Hooch, the Dutch Golden Age artist famous for his paintings of quiet domestic scenes that show glimpses of everyday life through open doors or windows. While De Hooch was more interested in depicting people and their relationships to one another, Melchers seeks to convey a more enigmatic narrative through the objects and panoramas she portrays. Her rooms are always devoid of human figures, yet traces of their lives are there for us to see.
The staging of these settings is superb, giving the viewer a multitude of delightful details to revel in — the luxuriously draped and crumpled fabrics, the ornate objects, the comfortable furniture, the opulent patterns and colors, the glorious panoramas. Astute observers will recognize the geographic location of each room, as well as the time of day and the season — even rooms that at first glance don’t seem to offer a view, have one that can be discovered through careful observation.
Although Melchers’ rooms are composite scenes created in the artist’s eye and devoid of human figures, the objects and elements suggest a real-life narrative. Most show little hints of a solitary presence, while others suggest companionship. Yet despite the breathtaking locations and an exciting aura of wanderlust, there’s a poignant sense of melancholy and longing in these paintings — a bittersweetness that originates with departures, farewells, and absence… the intense nostalgia of love lived and lost.
Melchers’ paintings enjoy justified acclaim in her country of birth, but in my opinion deserve much more widespread recognition beyond Dutch borders. Showcasing Melchers’ outstanding expression of painterly realism and exquisite rendering of light will serve as a primer to art lovers everywhere who haven’t been introduced to her remarkable artwork before, and will hopefully inspire and grow her international audience and collector base.
Written by Lorena Kloosterboer — June 2020, Antwerp, Belgium