Maxfield Parrish, 1870–1966, which concludes its national tour at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, May 26–August 6, 2000, is the first critical survey of one of the most beloved American artists of the twentieth century. For decades, Parrish bridged the worlds of high art and popular culture by creating an inventive and novel oeuvre that was intended to be reproduced for a mass audience. The exhibition, featuring more than 140 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, material artifacts, and ephemera, offers a comprehensive view of Parrish’s extraordinary achievement within the context of American culture.
The exhibition was organized by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and its Chief Curator, Sylvia Yount, and The American Federation of Arts. Major funding has been provided by The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. Additional support was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Organized chronologically, the exhibition begins with Parrish’s work of the late 1890s and early 1900s, when the young artist developed a unique approach to book and magazine illustration as well as poster and mural design. Included are many of Parrish’s iconic paintings, such as his illustration for The Arabian Nights: Princess Parizade Bringing Home the Singing Tree (1906). Parrish’s School Days (Alphabet) (1909) and The Idiot (1910)are well-known images commissioned for Collier’s. Also included are studies from 1894 for his famous Old King Cole mural, a New York City landmark now installed in the St. Regis Hotel.
The retrospective continues through the 1920s, a period of artistic experimentation in which Parrish achieved phenomenal popular success with his mass-produced fantasy images of the exotic and of erotic innocence. Daybreak (1922), a captivating reverie of youthful abandon, became the home decorating rage of the decade. Parrish also designed advertisements for flourishing businesses such as the Fisk Rubber Company, Edison Mazda Lamps, and the D.M. Ferry Seed Company. He often drew from nursery rhymes for these commercial images, meant to evoke both amusement and nostalgia.
During the difficult economic and political period that followed in the 1930s and 1940s, Parrish focused on vivid landscapes drawn from New England and the American Southwest. Brilliantly realized paintings such as Cobble Hill (1931), Moonlight Night: Winter (1942), Hunt Farm (1948), and Arizona (1950) demonstrate not only Parrish’s masterly technique, but also a broader preoccupation with regional and national identity. Many of these images were reproduced on calendars and greeting cards.
By 1936 Parrish was so successful that Time magazine reported, “As far as the sale of expensive color reproductions is concerned, the three most popular artists in the world are Vincent van Gogh, Cézanne, and Maxfield Parrish.” The artist’s posthumous revival during the decade of Pop art and in the postmodern period has widened his audience even further.
Parrish’s art was strongly affected by the improvements in printing methods in the early part of the century. Throughout his career, his use of the latest technical innovations in the design of magazine illustrations and advertisements redefined the relationship between “fine” and “commercial” art. These advances in printing also allowed reproductions of Parrish’s art to find their way into many American homes during the first three decades of the twentieth century.
The national tour for Maxfleld Parrish, 1870–1966, included the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (June 19–October 3, 1999), The Currier Gallery of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire (November 6, 1999–January 23, 2000), and the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York (February 19–April 30, 2000).
The installation at the Brooklyn Museum of Art is organized by Linda S. Ferber, Andrew W. Mellon Chair of American Painting and Sculpture, in the Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing on the fourth floor.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., have published Maxfield Parrish, 1870–1966. In this catalogue, Sylvia Yount, the Academy’s Chief Curator, examines the enormous popularity of Parrish’s work during his lifetime and today. Mark F. Bockrath, Paintings Conservator of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, discusses Parrish’s working methods and techniques.
The Brooklyn Museum of Art is organizing a series of public programs in conjunction with the exhibition. For more information, contact the Museum’s Education Division, (718) 638-5000, ext. 230.
A Brief Biography of Maxfield Parrish (1870–1966)
Frederick Maxfield Parrish was born into a Philadelphia Quaker family and was encouraged from childhood to develop his artistic talents. His father, Stephen Parrish, was a well-known etcher and landscape painter. The younger Parrish attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1892 to 1894 and came of age during a revivalist era that included the Mural Movement, the Golden Age of American Illustration, and the American Arts and Crafts Movement. An artist who produced images intended for a mass audience, Parrish was prolific and created works of all kinds, including covers for magazines such as Harper’s Baza[a]r, Scribner's, Century, and Life, as well as book jackets, theater sets, paintings, murals, and a range of graphic work from posters to calendars.