Melville Holmes (born 1950 in San Francisco) is a traditional fine artist, using pictorial modes and painting methods derived from the Old Masters of the 15th-18th centuries. In 1998, the Frye Museum in Seattle showcased the artist’s philosophy in a one-man show, “Old Master Dialogues.” The “dialogues” have continued through the years, as the artist first described them in the show’s catalogue:

Earlier ages held great reverence for antiquity, but in the twentieth century turning to the past went out of favor, no doubt because it seemed like a reversal of progress. There could be no turning back; now the vital thing is to be “contemporary,” which may reduce itself to merely being fashionable. . . .

Rather than keeping up with change, I came to look for that which remains constant. Works of fine art are perhaps best distinguished from other human products in that, beyond any other function, they serve as objects of contemplation. A painting affirms its content, saying to the viewer “Think on this.” . . . For example, the still-lifes of Chardin, the landscapes of Frederick Church, Vermeer’s View of Delft or Woman Holding a Balance, the Louvre Magdalene by George La Tour, or the exquisitely simple Goldfinch of Carel Fabritius, are affirmations of enduring beauty, of refinement amidst simplicity, and reflections on the human condition that transcend the circumstances of their creation to speak to us directly. In my paintings, therefore, I have sought to include elements that cannot be strictly dated but might apply to any time: a lake or dark forest, a harmoniously structured city, a meal of bread, cheese and wine, a woven basket, earthen jar, or beaten copper vessel.

In still-lifes, I have tried to incorporate items that were made by hand, reflecting the belief that technological developments do not invalidate skilled hand work. The art of painting is capable of many subtleties of expressive content. Paintings may also be contemplated for their physical substance, for the beauty and variety of their paint. The paint of the old masters looks different from the artists’ tube colors of today; modern paints have been chemically modified and stabilized for uniform consistency and a long shelf life. The older painters knew how to transform their few, simple materials into a fluid vocabulary ranging from glass-like transparency to fused enamel and shimmering opalescence, compared to which the later practice of mixing the colors directly as they appear gives a dead and flat effect.