Friday, April 17, 2009

Art History: Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)

“I don't know what people find or like in me, I'm hopelessly commonplace!”
~Maxfield Parrish



Most of us can remember the first time we saw an art picture or children’s book illustrated by Maxfield Parrish. The magical worlds created by Parrish usually include the color of lapis lazuli blue; in it’s purest form, also known by fine artists as “Parrish Blue”. The works of Parrish are romanticized scenes filled with electric violets, radiant reds, and rich glowing earth tones. Feminine or androgynous figures, nude and partially draped in flowing fabrics, maidens and knights lounging under porticoes flanked by classical pillars with lush backgrounds landscapes of make-believe mountains, fantasy waterfalls and fairy tale ambiance are common in the world of Maxfield Parrish paintings. The beauty, attention to detail and technical execution of the work denies us the ability to question their existence. The extraordinary people and fire-breathing dragons of a Parrish painting are so realistic that we want to believe they can be real people in real places.


Daybreak (1922) oil on panel

The Illustrator
Born July 25, 1870 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Frederick Maxfield Parrish was the child of Stephen Parrish, a well-known artist and etcher and his wife Elizabeth Bancroft Parrish. Maxfield, a descendant of generations of Quaker physicians, adopted his middle name as his professional name at a young age and followed in his father’s footsteps to pursue a love of art.


Egypt (1920) oil on panel

During his childhood, Parrish began drawing for pleasure, enjoyed painting trips in the summers with his father and visits to the major museums of Europe as a teen. Graduating from Haverford College in 1892, Parrish entered the Pennsylvania Academy and studied there until 1894. Working as an aide to Howard Pyle at Drexel Institute he met Lydia Austin, another instructor and his first female model, and they married in 1895, were married for 58 years and together produced four children: Dillwyn (1904), Maxfield Jr. (1906), Stephen (1909) and Jean (1911). Parrish and his family lived on an estate he designed, built, and named “The Oaks”.


Ectascy (1929) oil on panel, 36 x 24

The Parrish estate was in the middle of an artist’s colony founded by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, his father Stephen, and other writers, poets and painters of the era. The Oaks was built near Cornish, in Plainfield, New Hampshire, and overlooked the Connecticut River. Parrish filled his home and his children’s lives with reading and culture including musical soirees hosted in the main house. At the suggestion of his father, Parrish hired Susan Lewin; age sixteen, to assist Lydia with their first child during her difficult second pregnancy. Shortly after her employment began, Susan became the primary model in Parrish’s studio, his mistress (which lasted for 55 years), and his constant companion until a few years after his wife passed away. Despite being widowed, Parrish declined to marry Susan and she retaliated by marrying a childhood friend, at age 70, in 1960.

Stars (1926) oil on panel, 35 x 21

Part 1of a 2 part post--please visit again to read part two next week! To view a nice respresentative collection of more work by Maxfield Parrish visit HERE.
Copyright Tina Pfeiffer 2009 - do not use the text in this post without my written permission.

4 comments:

Carolyn (addtwist) said...

lovely pieces and interesting bio!
I'm not much of art buff, but I do enjoy learning about it :)

kim* said...

awesome awesome awesome.

TMCPhoto said...

Great article. It's always interesting to read some art history when it's not an obligation in order to graduate :)

One of my favourite Parish images is Stars, nice to have seen it here.

Pfeiffer Photos said...

Thanks to everyone for the great comments on this post--come back next Friday for Part 2. This is actually a research paper I wrote for one of my Art History classes last fall (hence why I'm breaking it into 2 parts--it's a bit lengthy for the average blog reader!) ;-)

So glad you all have enjoyed it--my prof did, too, and I got an A!!

Happy reading/learning!

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