Julius Garibaldi Melchers was born in Detroit in 1860 to German-immigrant sculptor Julius Melchers and Marie Bangetor. After spending his early years in Detroit, Melchers decided to become an artist and was sent to study at the Royal Academy in Dusseldorf in 1877. Melchers would have preferred to study in Paris, but his mother objected, describing the studios in Paris as “dens of iniquity.” In 1881, however, he convinced his parents that working in Paris was essential to his success as an artist. He proceeded to move to the city and enrolled in the Academie Julian.
At the time, the Academie Julian was the most popular institution among young American art students, and it was there that Melchers formed a friendship with fellow American George Hitchcock. In 1884, the two artists moved to Egmond aan Zee, a Dutch fishing village. The move to Holland proved extremely important to both artists and helped establish the reputation of Melchers in particular, who began to paint genre scenes of Dutch peasants going about their daily tasks. Over the years, he experimented with Realism, Symbolism, and eventually Impressionism.
Melchers’ wife, native Savannahian Corinne Mackall, helped forge his long-standing institutional tie to the Telfair Academy. Melchers had met Corinne when she was studying abroad in Europe in 1902, and the couple married in 1903. Corinne’s maternal uncle, A.R. Lawton, was President of the Telfair in 1905 when the Academy’s first director, Carl Brandt, died. Lacking funds to hire a full-time director at that point, the trustees proposed that Melchers serve as the Telfair’s Fine Arts Advisor with the charge of increasing the collection established by Mary Telfair and Carl Brandt. Melchers agreed to do so and traveled to Savannah once or twice annually to advise the trustees on museum administration and gallery installation. His excellent reputation and his connections within the art world allowed him to purchase outstanding artworks with relatively meager funds. The types of paintings he purchased generally reflected his own aesthetic taste and echoed his personal production. His association with the Telfair from 1906-1916 was his longest standing institutional tie, and he even continued to advise informally on fine arts purchases through the 1920s. The Telfair owes a great debt to Melchers’ expertise, as the collection of American and European Impressionist works were largely purchased by him.