A Year: Day to Day Men: 25th of July

Tiles and a Cluster of Suds

July 25, 1870 was the birthdate of the painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish.

Born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, Maxfield Parrish was the son of painter and etcher Stephen Parrish. His parents encouraged his drawing talent and took the young Parrish in 1884 on a trip to Europe. Parrish was exposed to the architecture and the paintings by the old masters, as he toured England, Italy and France. The family returned to the United States in 1886.

Maxfield Parrish attended the Haverford School, a private school for boys, and later studied for two years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. After graduating, he shared an art studio with his father in Annisquam, Massachusetts. A year later Parrish attended the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry.

Early in his career, Parrish did illustrations for “Harper’s Bazaar” and “The Scribner’s Magazine”. He also illustrated in 1897 the children’s book “Mother Goose in Prose”, written by L. Frank Baum, who went on to write and publish “The Wizard of Oz” three years later. By 1900, Parrish, now a  member of the Society of American Artists, traveled to Europe again to visit Italy.

Parrish worked with many popular magazines throughout the 1910s and 1920s. He also created advertising artwork for companies such as Colgate and Oneida Cutlery. Parrish received an exclusive contract with Collier’s and worked for them from 1904 to 1913. By the 1920s, however, Parrish decided to concentrate on his painting and stopped his illustrative commercial work.

In his forties, Parrish did paintings for children’s books and began working on large murals. His most popular work was the painting “Daybreak” which was produced in 1923. Featuring a scene of a columned portico with two female figures, it had undertones of the now famous Parrish blue color. The print of this work is regarded as the most popular print in the American 20th century based on the number of prints sold, equal to one for almost every four households.

Parrish’s art is characterized by vibrant colors. He achieved such luminous color through the process of glazing. This process involves applying alternating bright layers of oil color separated by varnish over a base rendering, usually a blue and white monochromatic underpainting. He would often project photographs of his draped models onto the canvas, allowing him to accurately represent the distortion of patterns of the draping.

The National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, Rhode Island, claims the largest body of his work, with sixty-nine works by Parrish. However, you can also see works by Parrish at the Hood Museum of Art in New Hampshire and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Parrish’s painting “Daybreak” has changed owners several times but has always been in private collections.

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