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Fantasies and Fairy-Tales: Maxfield Parrish and the Art of the Print

May 8 - July 19, 2009

 

(above: Maxfield Parrish, The Lantern Bearers, 1910. Lithograph, 19 1/2 x 17 1/2 inches, Fantasies & Fairy-Tales: Maxfield Parrish and the Art of the Print. Organized by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions, Washington, D.C.)

 

Making its only West Coast stop at the Crocker Art Museum from May 8 through July 19, 2009, Fantasies and Fairy-Tales: Maxfield Parrish and the Art of the Print offers a rare look at 95 of the popular commercial prints and illustrations for which the artist became known. One of the most important illustrators of the 20th century, Parrish was a major figure in the Golden Age of Illustration and continued to pursue his enduring vision for nearly a century. (right: Maxfield Parrish, Ferry's Seeds: Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, 1921. Poster advertisement, 31 3/4 x 24 inches, Fantasies & Fairy-Tales: Maxfield Parrish and the Art of the Print. Organized by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions, Washington, D.C.)

This exhibition is unique for examining the artist's printed works, whereas previous retrospectives focused primarily on oil paintings. Divided into five sections -- advertisements, book illustrations, calendars, magazine covers and proof sets -- the exhibition shows his mastery of four-color lithography, his humorous use of literature and children's stories, and the development of his unique, lush landscapes and figurative works.

"In the 1920s and 1930s Parrish was the most reproduced artist in the United States," said William Breazeale, Curator, Crocker Art Museum. "Most homes had a Parrish reproduction on the wall, and his works, especially his prints, continue to be very popular today."

As something of a child prodigy, Parrish's attention to detail and unique sense of composition were evident early in his work. He began his career illustrating covers for Scribner's Magazine, and the humor that he brought to these commissions ensured his popularity with the public. From Mary, Quite Contrary in a gardening advertisement to visions of Wynken, Blinken and Nod and their journey, each of his meticulously crafted four-color lithographs created a world of fantasy and lush beauty. Parrish was also a technical innovator who used photography as an aid in creating figures or drapery. Even the majestic mountains in his backgrounds were based on a collection of small, craggy rocks and sand, which he arranged on his desk to suit the composition.

Parrish's works have inspired generations of artists, including Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, who also took elements of commercial and fine art to create a new art form. Today these images, part of the nation's collective consciousness, are being discovered by a new generation.

 

Member magazine article

Illustration's Golden Age at the Crocker

Fantasies and Fairy-Tales: Maxfield Parrish and the Art of the Print

MAY 8 - JULY 19, 2009

Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was one of the most important illustrators of the 20th century. Born in Philadelphia in 1870, he was a precocious artist, advanced even as a teenager. As a young man, he studied under Howard Pyle at Drexel University in Philadelphia, though Pyle insisted that he had little to teach him.

Parrish began his career illustrating for Scribner's Magazine -- his attention to detail and unique sense of composition were evident even in his early black-and-white works. He was a major figure and the most reproduced artist in the United States during the Golden Age of Illustration (1890s-1930s).

His lush illustrations took advantage of the technique of four-color printing, which allowed him to bring a variety of subtle textures and color gradations to the medium of prints. He was able to exploit light effects especially well: living in Arizona in 1900-01, he fell in love with the play of light across the desert landscape. Parrish was also a technical innovator. He took photographs of himself and other models (including his handyman) and projected them onto the picture surface to serve as the basis of figures and drapery. Using scissors like a pen, he created other figures that he added to the composition. The majesty of the mountains in his backgrounds belie the fact that they were based on a collection of small, craggy rocks and sand which he arranged on his desk to suit the composition.

Parrish's commissions were extremely varied, from seed company advertisements to the covers of Life and Collier's to full series for book illustrations. The humor he brought to commissions and his exacting technique ensured his popularity with the public. This great commercial success, however, meant that many in the pure fine arts remained wary, even when his wealth allowed him to pursue his vision more independently. In a life devoted to breaking down the barriers between commercial and fine art, Parrish created a distinctive and highly crafted style combining both worlds.

Fantasies and Fairy-Tales: Maxfield Parrish and the Art of the Print, a nationally traveling exhibition making its first stop at the Crocker Art Museum, is unique for examining the artist's printed works. Divided into five sections -- advertisements, book illustrations, calendars (a major part of his later career), magazine covers and proof sets -- the exhibition features 95 objects showing his mastery of four-color lithography, his humorous use of literature and childrens' stories, and the development of his unique, lush landscapes and figurative works. An important precursor to Norman Rockwell, who studied his work closely before becoming a first-rate illustrator in his own right, Maxfield Parrish continued pursuing his unique and enduring vision until his death at the age of 96.

 

(above: Maxfield Parrish, Queen Gulnare of the Sea Summoning Her Relations, 1910. Lithograph, 19 x 17 in. (est.) Fantasies & Fairy-Tales: Maxfield Parrish and the Art of the Print. Organized by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions, Washington, D.C.)

 

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

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TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Discovery Of Art: Maxfield Parrish (DVD) Distributor Notes: "Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was one of the greatest American painters and illustrators of the 20th century. Brilliant blue skies, pastoral landscapes and captivating figures are his art's signature characteristic. The scope of his work was enormous, including covers for magazines, theater sets, paintings, photographs, as well as murals and graphic work ranging from posters to calendars." Source: Kultur Films Inc. DVD Release Date: February 26, 2008

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 Guide

Maxfield Parrish: Biography of an American Master 26 minutes / 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)

Maxfield Parrish: 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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