Friday, April 24, 2009

Art History: Maxfield Parrish - Part 2

The year of his marriage also brought Parrish his first magazine cover commission withHarper’s Bazaar that began his artistic career, which endured over 50 years and helped define the Golden Age of Illustration and the American visual arts. His talent for illustration and skill with colors caught the eye of many publishers and his work was commissioned for book illustrations, calendars, greeting cards, product advertisements, candy boxes and print. His work appeared in three of the twentieth century’s most-loved, and best known children’s books: Poems of Childhood by Eugene Field (1904), Arabian Nights by Nora Smith and Kate Wiggins (1909), and the most beloved of the Parrish illustrated books, Knave of Hearts by Louise Saunders (1925).

The Knave oil on panel

Between 1904 and 1935, Parrish enjoyed a steady flow of requests for work and was revered as a celebrity when his commissions rose to $2,000 each. An absolute favorite with the American public by 1925; one out of every four households in the United States had a copy of one of his art prints displayed in their home. A survey taken at that time found him listed among the top three favorite artists along with Cezanne and Van Gogh. He was inducted into the Society of American Artists in 1897.

Garden of Allah oil on panel

Technique and Influence
Maxfield Parrish was an innovator in the use of luminous color. The color “Parrish blue”, used frequently in his paintings, was named in his honor. Parrish created a technique of glazing bright layers of oil color separated by varnish and then applied to a base rendering of a blue and white monochromatic under painting. He achieved depth in his paintings by using enlargements of photographs of figures or objects which he projected and then traced at half or full size. The next steps were to cut out and place the images on the canvas and then apply multiple layers of thick glaze. The result creates realistically sized subjects and very vivid colors which appear almost three-dimensional when viewing his original paintings.

Morning oil on panel

Another method invented by Parrish involved making a large piece of cloth patterned with a black-and-white geometric design, draping the cloth on a human, and then photographing the model. With a developed transparency of the photo projected on a white canvas, Parrish used graphite to color in any parts of the project that were to be black. The outcome was a completed painting of a figure wearing a precisely draped cloth with a unique pattern on it. No artist has duplicated the style of Parrish but he influenced many including Norman Rockwelland Andy Warhol.

The Waterfall (1930), Solitude (1930) - both oil on panel

The Landscape Painter
During the 1930s, their children grown and pursuing their own careers, and unhappy about Susan Levin living full-time in the studio with Parrish, Lydia left home to live alone, writing and painting during winters in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. In 1931, after two winters in Arizona, Parrish decided to abandon his classic, “girls on rocks” theme and focused on painting landscapes. During this period, Parrish studied the hues of nature and applied even more intense colors to his work. A series of Great Southwest paintings include Night in the Desert,Desert with Water, The Grand Canyon, Pueblo Dwellings, Desert without Water (Cowboys), and Water on a Field of Alfalfa. He also produced a series of New England landscapes that were well received by the American public following the Great Depression and in the years leading to World War II. Many of his landscapes were printed on greeting cards, playing cards and in calendars published by Minnesota’s Brown & Bigelow Company from 1937 until 1962. Parrish also designed and painted a number of murals, on the walls of his own home and as decoration within famous hotels and bars across the country.

Evening Shadows, New Hampshire Hills oil on panel

The Last Painting
In 1961, Parrish finished his last painting, Getting Away from It All. The small oil on board shows a lone house on a high mountain peak surrounded by winter snow lit with the light of dawn. A small light burns in the window, and a fantastic light rises beyond the hill as if a beacon inviting the viewer to move from the safety of the home and go on to a higher realm. Parrish painted until he was 90 years old and died in 1966 at the age of 95. Each new generation rediscovers the magic and romance of Maxfield Parrish’s artwork and he remains the most reproduced artist in the history of art.

Getting away from It All (1960) oil on panel

Part 2 of a 2 part post--please click here to read part one from last week! To view a respresentative collection of works by Maxfield Parrish visit HERE.

Copyright Tina Pfeiffer 2009 - do not use the text in this post without my written permission.


I'm Julia said...

Love revisiting Maxfield Parrish's images, it's been awhile. Thank you so much for these articles, what a good read :-)

Julie Magers Soulen said...

Wonderful post. Love Parrish's beautiful art.

Sam said...

Ah! Tina! Maxfield Parish is an utter legend! Thank you so much for reminding me about his wonderful Arcadian paintings!! I am loking forward to reading this in detail!

Anonymous said...

I'm researching Maxfield for a project and so far i only read his biography until i saw what he can really do with his paintings on this blog. his landscape paintings takes my breath away!

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