Maxfield Parrish


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Painter and illustrator. Sharp draftsmanship, closely observed detail, dramatic color harmonies, luminous light effects, and decorative compositions characterize his widely appreciated treatments of playful themes. He drew many subjects from literature, particularly nursery rhymes and children's stories, but also invented pastoral idylls combining figures, often nude, with landscape. These romantic images combine nostalgia for human innocence with an exalted view of nature. His work received wide exposure through book and magazine illustrations, advertisements, public murals, and color reproductions that sold by the millions. Despite the popular acclaim these earned, during the 1930s he turned away from commercial ventures to concentrate on landscape painting. Born in Philadelphia, Frederick Parrish later adopted the family name of Maxfield. As a youngster he traveled extensively in Europe with his family. Having decided to study architecture, he entered Haverford (Pennsylvania) College in 1888 but left after three years without a degree. From 1892 until 1894 he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where Thomas Anshutz and Robert Vonnoh numbered among his teachers. He worked informally as well with illustrator Howard Pyle. His distinctive style grew also from admiration for the Pre-Raphaelite painters and for the great art nouveau-era poster designers, such as Czech-born Alphonse Mucha. He revisited Europe during the summer of 1893 and again for three months in 1903. The brilliant hues and clear atmosphere he observed during several months in the Southwest in 1901–2 encouraged development of his singular color schemes and otherworldly light effects. The New England terrain he knew best provided most settings, however. In 1898 he moved permanently to Plainfield, New Hampshire, in the vicinity of Cornish, a popular artists' summer retreat. In the final years before his death there, he witnessed a revival of interest in his work, following a mid-century period of neglect attributable to changing aesthetic taste. Parrish's father, landscape painter Stephen Parrish (1846–1938), numbered also among important contributors to the etching revival. Born in Philadelphia and mostly self-taught as an artist, he was nearly forty before he left business to devote himself full time to the profession. Partial to shore scenes, he generally depicted sites in New England, maritime Canada, or Europe. He died in Cornish, New Hampshire, where he had resided since 1895. His brother, Thomas Parrish (1837–99), painted landscapes, portraits, and other subjects.

Subjects: Art — Literature.

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