Sunday, January 4, 2009


From The Story of Snow White
By Maxfield Parrish, 1912
The California Palace of the Legion of Honor
Author Karora
From Wikimedia Commons

During the Golden Age of Illustration, Maxfield Parrish's "beautiful settings and charming figures" enchanted the American public. His work includes immense murals in office buildings and hotels, magazine covers, and advertisements as well as his book illustrations.
Many of his illustrations to children's books, still popular today, are the result of his struggle to make a living as an artist in his early years around the turn of the 20th century.

From pomegranate.stores

He was born Frederick Parrish in 1870 in Philadelphia, but he took the name Maxfield after his Quaker grandmother. His father, Stephen, was also an artist and Parrish's greatest influence. He originally studied architecture, an interest that is evident in his paintings. He married his wife Lydia 1895.
In 1900, Parrish contracted tuberculosis, and then suffered a nervous breakdown. Around that time, he switched from illustrations to oil painting. His oil paintings became very popular, with their brilliant colors and magical luminosity, until well into the 1940s. To achieve these magical effects, he would apply numerous layers of thin, transparent oil, alternating with varnish over stretched paper, a painstaking process that achieved both high luminosity and extraordinary detail.
The tuberculosis hung on and Parrish went to Arizona to convalesce in the dry heat there. While in Arizona, he was commissioned to do a series of landscapes. He began painting and traveling on commission and his career took off.
Parrish worked at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire, called The Oaks. The Oaks was a popular destination for guests during the summers but in the frozen New Hampshire winters, Parrish dedicated himself to his painting.
In 1905, Parrish's met Susan Lewin, a 16-year old girl hired as a nanny for his son Dillwyn. Her image appears often in paintings from this time through the 1920s. Over time, Susan became Parrish's assistant, model for his paintings, and eventually his lover. His wife, Lydia, and Maxfield grew increasingly estranged and she left him in 1911. Susan stayed with Maxfield for another 50 years.
From the 1930s until 1960, when he stopped painting, Maxfield Parrish refocused his attention on the world around him, producing a series of calendar landscapes. Yet even these retain the magical, window-to-the-otherworld quality that permeates all of his work.
Parrish died at 95 in 1966, at a time when his work was enjoying a renaissance of interest.

Maxfield Parrish

We perceive color in objects by the spectrum of light not absorbed by the pigment. The darker the color, the less light gets reflected. The less light reaching our eyes, the murkier the color becomes. We perceive color in light in just the opposite manner. Shining a light through a color causes that portion of the spectrum to be absorbed. The purer the color, the more light is available to our eyes and the brighter the color appears. Parrish explained his technique at length in Ludwig's Maxfield Parrish Color & Light.

Ecstasy 1929
Model: Jean Parrish
Project: General Electric Mazda Lamp Calendar

Commissioned for the 1930 General Electric Mazda Lamp Calendar, this painting depicts a young woman standing on the edge of a cliff, back arched, her hands lifting her hair, clearly enjoying the sun on her face and the wind whipping through her hair and clothing. Distant mountains and a “Parrish blue” sky with fluffy white clouds make up the background. A blue river winds below the cliff.
Parrish’s youngest child, Jean, born in 1911, posed for Ecstasy just before leaving for Smith College. Jean was the only child to follow her parents’ profession. She also posed for Parrish more often than her three older brothers, Dillwyn, Max Jr., and Stephen. Jean also modeled for Mary, Mary Quite Contrary (1921), Jack and the Beanstalk (1923), Evening (1921 or 1944), Daybreak (1922, standing girl), Knave of Hearts (1922, Prince), Stars (1926), and Dreaming (1928).

Sunrise 1931
Project: General Electric Mazda Lamp Calendar, 1933

General Electric Mazda Lamp Calendar, 1933. The artist painted the figures out after General Electric’s use.

Moonlight 1934
Model: Kathleen Philbrick Read
Project: General Electric Mazda Lamp Calendar, 1934

General Electric Mazda Lamp Calendar, 1934. Poor Kathleen: Parrish painted her out as early as February 1935. He was getting tired of painting “girls on rocks.”
This is just one of several pictures that Parrish revisited to remove the figures and turn into a landscape.
Parrish loved painting landscapes and did such work throughout his career. In fact, many of his pictures feature a landscape, even if it’s only glimpsed through a window or an arch. Around 1933 Parrish began to paint landscapes exclusively. He even revisited some of his earlier works, painting out the featured figure in order to “strengthen the composition.” He also complained that he was tired of painting “girls on rocks.”


Maxfield Frederick Parrish (1870-1966) was a unique figure in American art, not belonging to any school, part traditionalist, part inventor, sometime illustrator of gnomes and dragons, other times finding inspiration in the oak trees of his New Hampshire environs.
A meticulous craftsman, Parrish's idiosyncratic painting method involved applying numerous layers of thin, transparent oil, alternating with varnish over stretched paper, yielding a combination of great luminosity and extraordinary detail. In his hands, this method gives the effect of a glimpse through a window....except that the scene viewed is from the fairy tale world.
In spite of the long time it took to perfect a painting, Parrish was prolific over the course of his productive years, from his children's books of the turn of the century, to his famous prints of androgynous, lounging nudes during the 1920s, to his calendar landscapes of the 1930s through the 1960s.

Gallery Index:
Gallery1905-1913Nine Images
Gallery1913-1920Seven Images
Gallery1920-1924Nine Images
Gallery1924-1931Nine Images
Gallery1931-1949Seven Images
Gallery1949-1958Six Images
(By Galileo at Maxfield Parrish Online Gallery)

He was well known for the illustrations of fairies, gnomes and goblins in many children's books. He designed covers for Harper's Weekly and other popular magazines early in the twentieth century and he was the most popular advertising design artist of his time. He created paintings specifically for the color print market and reproductions of romantic scenes with lush colors sold well.
Parrish believed that the artist benefited when he used technology. He used photography in his studio and constructed his own 4x5 inch glass plate camera and developed the image in a positive form on another glass plate in his darkroom. He created a projector so he could project the image from his camera on a sheet of tracing paper. He would trace what he wanted from the photograph and transfer the image to a painting surface. He usually combined several photographs for one painting and never painted from live models.

Fisk Tires Prints
Gilded Age (1877-1900)
George Krevsky Gallery
©2009 artnet - The art world online

The Dream Garden
By Maxfield Parrish and Louis Comfort Tiffany
The The Curtis Building
Author Bruce Andersen
From Wikimedia Commons

Picture of Ali Baba 1909
Author: Maxfield Parrish
From Wikimedia Commons

The dramatic and highly colored paintings were the result of a complex glazing technique. He was fascinated by iridescent qualities of color and unusual effects of light. Later in his career he used glazes almost exclusively. He worked to create the effect of stained glass like the Tiffany designs that were popular at the time. It was a process that involved putting one color over another in a series of layers. The process created an intensely luminous canvas that is mostly lost in reproductions.

Dinky Bird 1904
Lantern Bearers 1908
Reveries 1913
Garden Of Allah 1918
Morning (aka Spring) 1922
Daybreak 1922
Interlude (The Lute Players) 1922
The Canyon 1924
The Knave 1925
Waterfall 1930

The glazing technique itself is a painting method of the old masters. Over a smooth white ground, several thin layers of transparent paint are applied. Each layer, because it is transparent, is visible through the subsequent layers. The underlying color is seen through the reflective qualities of the white behind it. The layers of paint build up and create subtle blend of luminous color. The effect is like many layers of colored glass laid one over the other.
The drawing was outlined in pencil on the white ground. The underpainting was usually a strong monochrome of ultramarine blue and designed to dominate the following layers and provide the shadows. Then he would build the transparent layers and use opaque pigments only for trees.
Parrish squeezed some oil pigment from the tube on a glass palette without mixing it
because in its pure state pigment is most transparent. Then he added linseed oil to the pigment to make it more transparent and checked his mixture on the glass palette which was placed over a white background. He placed a very thin layer of the paint in small areas and press the pigment against the surface of the panel with a rag to flatten out completely and remove any trace of brushstrokes.
Between each layer of paint he applied an equally thin layer of varnish. The varnish kept the underlying layer from mixing with the following layer and added the gloss that increased the transparency and the brilliance of the original oil color which dulls on drying. The varnishing process was as difficult as glazing because it can only be applied after the layer of oil paint is absolutely dry and took about 2 weeks. It had to be done in a warm room to a warmed painting so that no hint of moisture clouded the color. The varnish then had to dry completely before he could go on to the next layer. When the varnish was dry, Parrish would roughen the varnished surface by rubbing lightly with pumice so the next layer of glaze would adhere to it well. Since so much time was required for the drying, Parrish often worked on nearly a dozen paintings at one time. He hurried the drying time by placing the canvases in the sun during the summer or heat lamps in the winter.
He used a stipple brush, like that used for stenciling to apply the thin layers of paint. The paint was pounced on the surface in areas that were uneven like dots so that the underlying surface was still partially visible. The effect is similar to that of an airbrush which Parrish did not use. There are soft graduations from light to dark or one color to the next in his paintings. Sometimes Parrish textured the glazes with course paper, wipe them with cheesecloth or clean edges with a knife to achieve the effects he sought.
Throughout his long life Parrish painted with attention to craftsmanship and design. The techniques and innovations that he used to create his work were tools to enable him to explore the luminous qualities of color. The resulting paintings contain an elegant beauty that is a feast to the eye.
-Information from "America's Great Illustrators" by Susan E. Meyer, published by Galahad Books. It has chapters on Remington, Leyendecker, Flagg, Gibson, Christy, Pyle, Held Jr, Rockwell and Wyeth. © 1998 - 2007 ArtCafe Network
There are a few of Parrish's half-finished paintings around. In Dreaming (1928), there was originally a nude woman seated by a large tree. After publication, Parrish decided to remove the girl and change various elements. He never completed the job. This painting clearly demonstrates his technique.

Dreaming October
Oil painting on masonite

The tree on the right represents the first stage in producing the full colour image. Cyan in varying degrees of intensity has been laid down with the full knowledge of what other "process" colours will do when laid over them. The "stipple" effect--as if some areas are put on with a sponge--contributes to the impressionistic dazzle seen in close examination. Parrish’s order of application varied. In many cases he worked from a carefully planned black "grisaille"--then overlaid cyan, magenta and yellow in that order. In this case the amorphous nature of the tree lent itself directly to colour. Another artist, and friend of Parrish, who used a similar technique was the Alaskan painter Fred Machetanz.
(Copyright 2006 Robert Genn at
"There are countless artists whose shoes I am not worthy to polish--whose prints would not pay the printer," he said, "the question of judgment is a puzzling one."
"The hard part is how to plan a picture so as to give to others what has happened to you. To render in paint an experience, to suggest the sense of light and color, of air and space." (Maxfield Parrish)

Artist Letters December 9th 1902
Windsor, Vermont
Source Don Kurtz

Of Parrish, Norman Rockwell said, “Maxfield Parrish was certainly one of our most prominent illustrators and hardly a home in America existed that didn’t have a Maxfield Parrish print. I’m an illustrator. Maxfield Parrish was a painter-illustrator. He was in the Golden Age of Illustration. When I was in art school I admired him.”
The most popular American artist of his day, Maxfield Parrish (1870–1966) mingled mythical and real landscapes so naturally as to create worlds that can be briefly entered and savored: you can almost smell the snow on his distant peaks, feel the pine duff underfoot in his forests. Here are a dozen of his classics: Ecstasy, The Millpond, Wild Geese, The Reservoir at Villa Falconieri, Solitude, Contentment, and six others.

Maxfield Parrish 2009 Wall Calendar

More about Maxfield Parrish:
AKA Frederick Maxfield Parrish
Born: 25-Jul-1870
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA
Died: 10-Mar-1966
Location of death: Plainfield, NH
Cause of death: unspecified
Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Artist
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: American book and magazine illustrator
Father: Stephen Parrish (landscape painter)
Mother: Elizabeth Bancroft
Wife: Lydia Austin (ethnologist, m. Jun-1895, d. 1953)
Son: John Dillwyn Parrish (b. 1904)
Son: Maxfield Parrish, Jr, (b. 1906)
Son: Stephen (b. 1909)
Daughter: Jean (b. 1911)
(Copyright ©2008 Soylent Communications)

Fans of Maxfield Parrish should check out The Knave of Hearts
Alma M. Gilbert’s essay Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe

Maxfield ParrishThis biography was prepared by Natalie M. Yurkoski at

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