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One Out of Every Four Homes
In the early 1900s, up through until the dawn of television, there was, in this country, what has been called the "Golden Age of Illustration." Names such as Howard Pyle, Norman Rockwell, and Wyeth come to mind. However the most acclaimed American artist/illustrator of this period is said to have had a print of his work hanging in one out of every four homes in this nation. In a survey taken in 1925, he was listed with van Gogh and CÚzanne as one of the three greatest artists of all time. One of his paintings, featuring his daughter, Jean, and Kitty Owen, the daughter of William Jennings Bryan, is said to be the top-selling art print of all time. It was entitled Daybreak and it was by Maxfield Parrish.

Frederick Parrish (he later changed his given name to his mother's maiden name) was born in 1870, the son of a well-known etcher, Stephen Parrish. He grew up in a well-to-do family with all the educational advantages of schooling and world travel the Victorian era had to offer. He was privileged to have studied all the great artists not from books but from the walls of museums. But he was especially taken by the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, most notably Rossetti and Lord Leighton. It was from them that he derived his curious blend of realism, fantasy, and romanticism bordering upon the erotic. After a misguided effort to study architecture (which is evident in his paintings), Parrish enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and later studied under Howard Pyle at the Drexel Institute. In 1895, he did a mural entitled Old King Cole for the University of Pennsylvania Thespian Society which gained him national attention.

At the age of 25, he did his first magazine cover for Harper's Bazaar and from that time on, there was no end to the contracts for calendars, book covers, and national magazines. He became so popular his estate, "The Oaks" near Plainfield, New Hampshire (which he designed and built himself), became a sort of artist colony populated by not just artists but writers and intellectuals of all types. By the 1920s his illustrations were commanding prices in excess of $2,000. It was during this period that he completed such famous paintings as Reveries, Daybreak, Hilltop, and Morning. His "Dynamic Symmetry" is still taught in art schools today. And his bold use of colour, especially cobalt blue, has earned that hue the nickname "Parish blue." In 1960 he stopped painting altogether and married Susan Lewin, his companion and model, for 55 years. She was 70. He was 90. He died in 1966 at the age of 95.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
9 February 1999


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