American Painter 1870-1966

Maxfield Parrish is an artist whose work people often recognize, even if they don't know his name. Before devoting himself exclusively to painting for himself (and for sale, of course) he earned a living as a commercial artist painting advertisments and magazine covers. Harpers Weekly, Colliers and Ladies' Home Journal all spring to mind.

Probably what people associate most with Parrish's work is "Parrish Blue". The intense, brilliant, almost blinding blue in his paintings. Blue of every shade from indigo to aquamarine. And light. His paintings are always about where the light is, and where it isn't. You almost never see the source of the light, just the effect it has on all the other objects in the painting. In fact, in some of them, when you look carefully, the source can't possibly be where you think it is. In one painting there is a figure striding down the steps away from an open door. Perhaps away from a party. The light looks like it is streaming out from the door, but it is the front of the steps that are lit - not the tops.

In fact, Parrish made light such an important part of all his paintings, that people describe his work as luminous, and will go on about how the appearance of a painting changes with the ambient light where it is displayed. A college teacher of mine loved used Parrish paintings as examples of a theater lighting design should look to the audience.

The distincive look and color of Maxfield Parrish is often attibuted to the fact that the CMYK printing process was developed while he was a young painter. In experimenting with how to best produce art that could be reproduced by this process, he would actually paint the color layers in. You can find reproductions of an unfinished painting in most books and many web sites that shows the cyan layer painted in in the upper right section.

But beyond the color and the light, Parrish's work is also known for its content. Pastoral scenes. Grecian settings. Androgynous figures reclining or swinging. Even when the figures are in motion they portray a sense of peace and tranquility.

Two of his most famous paintings are probably "Daybreak" and "Ecstasy." Daybreak features naked young girl leaning over an older woman who seems to be awakening, they are between two large columns and there is a large lake or sea with mountains in the background. Ecstacy is a lone woman standing on a rock outcropping above a calm lake. Her blue dress and hair are billowing in the wind. The sun is on her face and the white billowy clouds in the sky seem immense.

While there are many good prints of Parrish works, I have never seen one that does justice to "Daybreak." I was fortunate to see the original at a retrospective of his at the Parrish Family Trust in Stockbridge Mass. The vividness of the image is amazing and the detail in the background is subtle and amazing, this area is washed out on every print I've seen and really ruins the completeness of the image. Some decent scans are availible at :

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.