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Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make-Believe

July 16 - September 11, 2005


(above: Interlude Mural, oil on linen canvas, 1922, 84 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester. Lent by the Eastman School of Music, 5.97L. Photo Credit: Archives of Alma Gilbert)

More than 80 works of superlative design and beauty by Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) will be presented this summer in a major exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art. Running July 16 to September 11, 2005, the nationally touring exhibition, Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make-Believe, features many of the master illustrator's most recognizable art works, including his popular calendar and book illustrations, his signature classicized paintings, and the mural he painted for the Long Island studio of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. The exhibition also explores Parrish's artistic development and his working methods, with the aid of documentary photographs, demonstrating why he is counted among the best-known and most beloved American artists of the 20th century.

Parrish considered himself a commercial artist, although he studied fine art at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Design. His immense popular success was due not only to his consummate mastery over the craft of painting, but also to his application of the newly developed, high-quality color printing techniques that aided the massive dissemination of his imagery. Redefining the role of graphic artist, Parrish created a unique style, part illustration-part fine art, tailored to the strengths of the new printing process. (right: Alphabet, oil on board, 1909, 22 x 16 inches. Private Collection. Photo Credit: Archives of Alma Gilbert)

The exhibition includes examples from each phase of Parrish's career beginning with his illustrations for children's books. His work in books such as Mother Goose in Prose and The Golden Age have been reprinted and handed down and remain among the principal means that new generations of American readers have become acquainted with Parrish's art. The illustration Alphabet, included in the exhibition, is among the splendid examples of Parrish's early work.

Perhaps Parrish is best known for his annual production of calendar art for Edison Mazda, a manufacturer of electric lamps from 1918 to 1934. Through these images depicting toga clad figures in fantastic landscape settings, Parrish challenged the technology of his day by pushing for advances in color lithography. The result was an entirely new and vivid form of printing never before seen.

Among the highlights of the exhibition is Parrish's 1922 painting Daybreak, featuring a female figure greeting the first rays of the morning sun. As an art poster, it became an immediate sensation appearing in hotel lobbies, college dorm rooms, and over the mantel of homes. In short, it was a marketing triumph that not only secured the place of popular, but inexpensive, fine art reproduction during the 20th century, but guaranteed Parrish's fame as one of America's most recognizable artists.

Parrish composed his paintings with the aid of photographs, which allowed for the prolonged study of a model to insure the accurate portrayal of the figure's anatomy. His wife Lydia and their three children, especially the middle daughter Jean, appear frequently as models in his photographs, as demonstrated by a selection of examples in the exhibition. His most important model, and the one who posed for the bulk of his photographic figurative work, however, was Susan Lewin. She began posing for Parrish in 1905 and remained with him until 1960. The young Lewin appears in the photograph that served as a study for the painting Land of Make-Believe, which is also included in the exhibition. (right: Dingleton Farm, oil on board, 1956, 11 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 1/4 inches. Collection of Alma Gilbert-Smith. Photo Credit: Archives of Alma Gilbert)

At a time when wealthy Americans commissioned large-scale mural cycles for their newly constructed homes, Parrish was their artist of choice. Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make-Believe includes the rare opportunity to view the spectacular mural commissioned in 1914 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney for the reception room of the studio she built in Wheatley Hills, Long Island. The mural is comprised of five panels -- the longest of which measures 18 1/2 feet-on three of the four studio walls and depicts a Renaissance fête. In spite of his involvement in such private and exclusive commissions, Parrish throughout his career remained committed to the democratization of art, viewing beauty as a form of social enrichment.

In the 1930s Parrish moved away from figural work to focus on pure landscape painting. His decision echoed the mood of the country; during this period of economic hardship and social upheaval, images of domestic comfort in peaceful, idyllic settings became very popular to those suffering through the Great Depression. As the United States moved toward World War II, there was a renewal in nationalism echoed by Parrish's landscapes. While they were not overtly political, the artist's landscapes proclaimed the beauty of the American land. After the war, the popularity of Parrish's landscapes persisted because they embodied the stability and prosperity of the American way of life. (left: Young Girl in a Landscape, oil on board, 1918, 10 x 8 inches. Peer and Sallie Hantz Trust.)

Whether in books, calendars, or magazine covers, Maxfield Parrish's images of troubadours and nymphs in Arcadian landscapes never failed to capture the imagination. Applying the new printing techniques available to him, Parrish transformed his paintings into America's first mass-produced art poster with tens of thousands appearing in homes all over the United States.

"The San Diego Museum of Art is excited to share this multi-faceted exhibition of one of this country's most respected and recognized artists with our community and many out-of-town guests," says SDMA's executive director, Derrick R. Cartwright. "Parrish's work, his creative method, and his imaginative subject matter will resonate with visitors of all ages. His imagery balances the popular and fantastic in a way that has secured him a lasting place in the history of art in the United States."

Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make-Believe is organized by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions, Washington D.C.[1]


(above: The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Murals: North Wall, oil on canvas, 1918, 63 1/8 x 221 1/4 inches. Private Collection. On loan to Cornish Colony Gallery and Museum)



Nevada Museum of Art ­ Reno, NV
April 30, 2005 ­ June 26, 2005
The San Diego Museum of Art ­ San Diego, CA
July 16 ­ September 11, 2005
Telfair Museum of Art ­ Savannah, GA
September 29 ­ November 27, 2005
Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville, AL
December 15, 2005 ­ February 12, 2006
Memphis Brooks Museum ­ Memphis, TN
March 13 - May 7, 2006


In conjunction with Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make-Believe , the San Diego Museum of Art is presenting several engaging lectures, gallery talks, classes for children and adults, as well as a Culture & Cocktails event on July 21 and free Family Festival on August 21.

For more information on the Museum's concerts, films, and lectures, call (619) 696-1966. To purchase tickets, please call Ticketmaster at (619) 220-8497. Museum members receive the discounted price for each of the events listed. Programs and artists are subject to change .


(above: The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Murals: East Wall, Panel 2A, oil on canvas, 1914, 63 3/4 x 74 1/4 inches. Private Collection. Photo Credit: Archives of Alma Gilbert)



Museum visitors can deepen their understanding of the various topics posed by the exhibition Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make-Believe through a series of three lectures held on select Thursday evenings during the exhibition. All lectures begin at 6:00 p.m. in the James S. Copley Auditorium and are free with museum admission.

July 28: "A Look at Maxfield Parrish" by D. Scott Atkinson
D. Scott Atkinson, chief curator and curator of American art at SDMA, examines the life and career of one of America's most recognizable artists.
August 4: "The Art of American Illustration" by Maxine Gaiber
Maxine Gaiber, SDMA's director of education, places the work of Maxfield Parrish within the broader context of American illustrators of the 19th and 20th centuries.
August 18: "Ceramics of Make-Believe: Wedgwood's Fairyland" by Steven Kern
Steven Kern, SDMA's curator of European art, takes a closer look at a related display of fancifully decorated ceramic vessels produced in England around the same time that Parrish worked.



August 11 (Thursday), 6:00 p.m., and August 14 (Sunday), 2:00 p.m.: Ramon Hernandez, SDMA's Museum Art School manager, leads museum visitors on a tour through the Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make-Believe exhibition galleries.



Sunday, August 21, noon to 4:00 p.m.: Maxfield Parrish's finely detailed paintings draw viewers into a fanciful world of giants, princesses, and pirates. Families will enjoy a fun-filled afternoon of adventure with art activities, storytelling, stilt walkers, artist demonstrations, and free tours of Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make-Believe in English and Spanish.



By providing students with extensive access and exposure to the works of art featured in Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make Believe , SDMA's classes for adults and summer camps for children give area students an unprecedented opportunity to learn firsthand from Parrish's original artworks. For more information or to register for a class, please contact the Museum's education department directly at (619) 231-1996 or email education@sdmart.org.


Adult Classes
Great Expressions: The World of Maxfield Parrish (studio class)
Thursdays, July 14-August 25, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
Instructor: Elizabeth Washburn
Working in oil, intermediate artists will learn the basics of sketching, light and shadow, and the nuances of paint to capture the luminosity of Maxfield Parrish's landscapes, the beauty of his figures, and the richness and depth of his palette.
American Illustrators (slide/lecture class)
Thursdays, August 11-September 1, 6:00-8:15 p.m.
Instructor: Maxine Gaiber
Students will examine the work of important American illustrators James Audubon, Winslow Homer, Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth, and Norman Rockwell and learn how these artists captured the spirit of the age in which they lived.
Youth Classes
Painting with Parrish
Ages: 9-12, Saturdays, July 9-30
9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon
Instructor: Elizabeth Wepsic
Young artists will explore the world of Maxfield Parrish in SDMA's special exhibition Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make-Believe. In the studio, students will paint in the style of Parrish, creating landscapes full of fantasy, whimsy, and make-believe.
Summer Camps for Children
Panels, Canvas, and Frescoes
August 22-26, ages: 8-10.
Instructors: Ardina Greco and Elizabeth Washburn
Campers discover how to create murals in the studio by exploring the history and importance of murals and visiting SDMA's special exhibition Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make-Believe.

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy these additional articles and essays:


1. To learn more on how organizations like The Trust For Museum Exhibitions organize and tour exhibits, please see TFAO's Planning, Organizing and Touring Art Exhibitions.

2. Itinerary courtesy of The Trust For Museum Exhibitions.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the San Diego Museum of Art in Resource Library.

TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Discovery of Art 2: Maxfield Parrish. This 50 minute 2000 film by Kultur Video "...is part of a series that showcases the lives and works of some of the greatest artists of the Western world, from the Renaissance through the 20th century. This episode features the work of the great American 20th century painter and illustrator Maxfield Parish. Maxfield Parish is also well known as a poster artist and muralist. Brilliant colors and decorative treatments are the trademark of his work. Art historians share their insights on the importance of this artist while the viewer sees some of his creations." -- All Movie Gui
Maxfield Parrish  26 minute / 1998 / CH - Having one of the most recognizable and beautiful illustration styles of the twentieth century made Maxfield Parrish's works among the most reproduced of all. This biography traces his life and influences from childhood and underscores his importance in the commercial arts, flirting often with the fine arts, with over 100 brilliant images from his body of work. (courtesy of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)
Parrish Blue is a 27 minute film that was produced in 1967, shortly after the death of the popular American artist/illustrator Maxfield Parrish. It's a rare film, made when his home and studio in Cornish, New Hampshire, were just about as he left them at age 96. His son, Maxfield Parrish, Jr., and artist and friend, Norman Rockwell, share their understanding of this man who dominated the popular arts in early 20th-century America. We glimpse much of Parrish's work...from magazine covers to advertisements; from huge murals to decorative prints; from book illustrations to notecards. Many of the originals were available to the film makers. The film itself is a transfer from a recently discovered "answer print" and shows its age through scratches and grain as it develops an engaging portrait of a supremely talented "character" who touched so many people with his unique vision. Also available as a DVD.

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