Great Artist From the Past: Maxfield Parrish

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures. – Henry Ward Beecher

In 1984 Dee and I were living in metro Rochester, New York. and an art exhibition of the work of Maxfield Parrish was hosted by the Memorial Art Gallery. I truly wish I could say that we attended the exhibition, but instead, I have long felt regret that we did not take the time. However, I have been a fan of Parrish’s art ever since.

The art depicted in this article displays a small sample of the very special blend of ethereal and other-worldly approach that Maxfield Parrish was known for. However, he also was a fine illustrator of children’s books and advertising, often choosing an entirely different approach and style.

The piece below – Daybreak – is his best known and most popular work. During the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, it was estimated that 25% of Americans had at least one piece of Parrish artwork in their home and Daybreak was the most popular of all. The model for the reclining figure was Kitty Owen, granddaughter of William Jennings Bryan and the girl bending over was Jean Parrish, daughter of the artist. Maxfield Parrish referred to this piece as, “My great painting.”

Daybreak by Maxfield Parrish, 1922 oil on panel 26.5″ x 45″ (private ownership)

This next piece – Dream Castle in the Sky – is known for harmony among the various elements of the piece, along with great artistic detail. One of the secrets to Parrish’s art was his unique approach to color that used oil paint along with glazes, completed with careful layering. The result was amazing vibrance and intensity of color, making his art highly distinctive.

Dream Castle in the Sky by Maxfield Parrish, 1908 oil on canvas 70.5″ x 129″ (Minneapolis Institute of Art)

This next display – The Dream Garden – is an absolutely stunning mural made of 100,000 pieces of Tiffany glass using 260 different colors. The artwork is of course by Maxfield Parrish, but the photo cannot begin to provide any real measure of appreciation for the incomparable beauty of the work. If you find yourself in Philadelphia, stop by the Curtis Publishing Company building, where you will find this exquisite wall mural in the lobby. Plan on allowing yourself plenty of time to enjoy!

The Dream Garden by Maxfield Parrish 1916 Tiffany glass 15′ x 49′ (Curtis Publishing Company Building, Philadelphia)

A lesser-known piece – Cascade – Quiet Solitude – is still a beautiful work of landscape artistry. Maxfield Parrish described his philosophy of landscape painting as follows:

My theory is that you should use all the objects in nature, trees, hills,
skies, rivers, and all, just as stage properties on which to hang your
idea, the end in view, the elusive qualities of a day, in fact, all the
qualities that give a body the delights of out of doors… That’s
the trouble with so much art today, it is factual, and stops
right there.

Cascades – Quiet Solitude by Maxfield Parrish 1959 (Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Winter Park, Florida)

A print of the above piece is in my home office above my desk. placed in a carefully selected antique frame. I am quite sure the original is stunning, but the print is more than a fair rendition. The color selection, the artistic balance, and the peaceful qualities make it a favorite in our home.

Carefully selected art should grace the walls of every home. Hopefully you can search for classic paintings that you find to be inspirational in some way. Then take some time to learn about the artist, for your life will be wonderfully enriched through the experience.

Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)

© Jeffery J. Michaels / Plain English Publications 2023
(Quotations allowed with attribution to this blog)

Maxfield Parrish. By Coy Ludwig. Published 1973 by Watson-Guptill Publications.

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