Maxfield Parrish, an American painter and illustrator, earned his living during the first half of the 20th century producing covers for magazines, theater sets, paintings, photographs, as well as murals and graphic work ranging from posters to calendars. He's now considered one of the greatest American artists, but critical acclaim from the art world eluded him during his lifetime.
Maxfield Parrish for a New Generation
Maxfield Parrish distinguished himself by earning a generous living as an artist during the first half of the 20th century: The time of the Great Depression.
Early Life of Maxfield Parrish
Maxfield Parrish came into the world on July 25, 1870 to parents who encouraged his artistic interests. His father, Stephen Parrish made a living as an engraver and landscape architect. Maxfield attended Haverford College, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Drexel Institue of Arts.
His career took off in 1897 when he earned a commission to illustrate L. Frank Baum's Mother Goose Prose. After that, he worked on Eugene Field's Poems of Childhood, Arabian Nights, A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales, The Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics and The Knave of Hearts. During the 1910's and 1920's, he worked on an impressive number of popular magazine Colliers and Life being two of them. Advertisers clamored to hire him such as Wanamaker's, Edison-Mazda Lamps, Fisk Tires, Colgate and Oneida.
Art for Arts Sake
In the 1920's, Parrish branched out and began painting androgynous nudes in fantastical settings while living comfortably off the royalties of posters and calendars that showcased his previous works. His model and mistress, Sue Lewin, posed for many of his paintings, and he modeled for some of the male characters in his work.
In 1931, he had enough of painting "girls on rocks", although he did profit from them, and decided to try his hand at painting landscapes. Parrish approached his landscapes by building models and experimenting on lighting setups before deciding on the view. Then he photographed that view for painting. The Millpond is one painting in which he used this method.
Maxfield Parrish achieved the luminosity in his paintings with a glazing technique developed by the Old Masters. Although any color can be used for an under painting, Parrish painted a monchromatic blue of ultramarine and colbalt. He used transparent hues for everything other than the trees. The trees were first painted as dark silhouettes, and after the paint dried, he painted illuminated foliage over them using the opaque colors of yellow or orange and then glazed over with green. After each layer of paint dried, he then painted a thin layer of varnish over the painting. This tedious process continued layer after layer until the painting was finished. Artists today no longer use varnish on their paintings. Glazes have been perfected since Parrish's time making the process more efficient.
An Artist Like No Other
Parrish had a unique style. He didn't follow any art movement, and nobody since has copied his style. However, his paintings are still appreciated today by artists of many genres. Elton John's Caribou album has a Parrish background. Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley appeared semi-nude in his video, You are Not Alone, to emulate Parrish's painting Daybreak. His illustration's still appear today on calenders, posters and greeting cards.
Maxfield Parrish died on March 30, 1966.