MAXFIELD PARRISH (1870-1966)

"Swift's Premium Ham Display"

"Swift's Premium Ham Display"

12" x 9 3/8", Print 20171

"Cassim in the Cave"

"Cassim in the Cave"

11" x 8 3/4", Print 20172

"Thanksgiving Issue November 17, 1906"

"Thanksgiving Issue November 17, 1906"

10 1/4" x 14 1/2", Print 10895

Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)

Maxfield Parrish was born into a Philadelphia Quaker family.  His birth name was Frederick Maxfield Parrish, and he later adopted the name Maxfield.

His father, Stephen Parrish, was a landscape painter and etcher, and was his first teacher. Maxfield was lucky to have very supportive parents, his father even took him on a tour of the museums of Europe when he was ten, and together they painted and sketched.

Initially interested in architecture, young Parrish studied at Haverford College; at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; and at Drexel Institute. One of his teacher's was illustrator Howard Pyle, who later became a major influence on his work. 

At this time he was already making a living by illustrating books, and in 1895 he moved to Windsor where his father had moved recently. At this time he also married his wife Lydia. 

 

In 1900 Parrish contracted Tuberculosis, which caused many complications in his personal life. Lydia and Maxfield wanted to wait until his health improved before having children, and ended up having children much later in life, at least for that time period. In 1905 Parrish met Susan Lewin, a 16 year old girl that began to work as his assistant. Not much is known about the extent of their relationship, but much of his work includes her as a model. Allegedly the relationship may have turned romantic at some point. Whatever it was, it was a very intimate relationship that caused his marriage to suffer. They even moved into separate houses on the same property. 

 

All the while his health and marriage struggled, his career was taking off. His illustrations and particular style had become very well known, and he was constantly commissioned to do work for publishers and advertisers. He was prolific and never stopped working.  It is estimated that his art delivered over one billion advertisement messages.  He also illustrated many books for major American authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne, L. Frank Baum, Kenneth Grahame, Eugene Fields, Louise Saunders and the redoubtable Edith Wharton.

 

Commissions for advertisers like Edison Mazda (the precursor of GE) made Parrish a household name in the 20's. The House of Art published many of his well known prints, including Daybreak which was to become the most reproduced image in the history of art. 

 

In the latter years of his life, from the age of sixty to ninety, Parrish dedicated himself to painting landscapes. They were published almost exclusively by Brown and Bigelow in St. Paul, Minnesota, as calendars and executive prints.  Parrish painted until the age of ninety-one and died at his home, "The Oaks" in Plainfield, New Hampshire in 1966.

 

Parrish strongly influenced American art.  Many of the major luminaries in the art world such as Andrew Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, and Andy Warhol have collected and been influenced by his work. Today, Parrish oils are found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Detroit Art Institute, and the De Young Museum to name a few of the major art institutions that house his work. His painting Daybreak (1922) which was sold in May 1996 by Sotheby's in New York for a price of $4.3 million, which was the highest price ever paid for the work of an American illustrator. 

 

Biography adapted from the Cornish Colony Museum biography. 

Sources include:

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

Jim Vadeboncoeur, The Vandeboncoeru Collection of Knowledge

Coy Ludwig, Maxfield Parrish

John Goodspeed Stuart, Young Maxfield

Alma Gilbert Smith, author of many books and articles about the artist and director of the Cornish Colony Museum

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