Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe

by Alma M. Gilbert



While in Europe the Parrish family made almost daily trips to museums and attended concerts and operas on a daily and weekly basis. According to Coy Ludwig's biography of Parrish, this was probably one of the reasons why the young man had a love of music that rivaled his love for the visual arts.[3]

There are many allusions in Parrish's letters to associates and family throughout his life where he makes reference to painting in his studio while listening to classical recordings by Paganini, Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff. An outsize gramophone can be seen in the background of some of the photos taken by the artist. The grand piano in the middle of his music room at The Oaks and the many musicals held there attest to the exaltation and joy he found in music throughout his life. There are also many references in the oral histories I gathered about him that claimed he could always be heard whistling and vying for air space with the many birds that abounded (and still abound) on the property.

When the family returned to Philadelphia so that young Fred could continue his education, he was enrolled in the prestigious Haverford College. Stephen, however, remained his son's first teacher and greatest influence. He helped guide Fred in the intricacies of etching, and one of the first etchings created by Fred was done for his mother Elizabeth. He titled it the 1887 Calendar. The preparatory drawing for the etching is included here.

Parrish remained in Haverford until his junior year and was a member of Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. In 1892 he enrolled in the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). His teachers there included Robert Vonnoh, Thomas P. Anschutz and Thurton. Initially, Parrish thought that he would study architecture, but more and more he was drawn to painting and drawing. His class at PAFA included other artistic notables like William Glackens and Florence Scovel Shinn.

Parrish maintained a friendship with Elsie Evangeline Deming, another of his classmates at the academy. Some of their correspondence gives the reader a glimpse of the hopes and aspirations of the young artist. In an early letter, Parrish confided in Elsie his love for the area that was to become his home for over sixty years. After visiting his parents in the home that was being built for them in Cornish, he wrote:

Oh, Daisy, you should see our place in the hillsides of New Hampshire. I was there for a week and it went way ahead of expectations. Wilson Eyre is putting us a pretty house upon it which I have not yet seen. Such an ideal country, so paintable and beautiful, so far away from everything and a place to dream one's life away. Why daddy is a new man with it all and I long to be up there and become identified with it ... . I shall go up to Windsor to stay indefinitely, maybe til December. It is a paradise up there in the mountains, when the year is old! I hate to think of the city again - ever! My share of outdoor life has been a generous and appreciated one. It has changed me in many ways.[4]


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