Saturday 25 July 2020

Annals of the Parrish

Born 150 years ago today was Maxfield Parrish, one of the most commercially successful painters of the 20th century: in 1910 he was earning $100,000 a year, at a time when a house could be bought for $2,000. His typical 'high' style could be classified as a kind of belated neo-classicism, a stridently assertive take on Puvis de Chavannes, with a palette of ultra-vivid saturated colour replacing Puvis's pallid tones. Parrish's images assault the eye, offering all they've got in that initial assault. They are strangely flat and lifeless (as are Puvis's) and seem to exist in an airless one-dimensional world of Parrish's own devising, one that references nature but owes little to it. His 'Esctasy' (modelled by his youngest daughter, and widely distributed as a calendar cover) is a typical work in this manner –
With their spectacularly decorative qualities, it is no wonder Parrish's pictures achieved such success, or that he was very much at home in the field of commercial illustration, in high-paying magazines and in story books.
  Talking of story books, this image of a chef from a 1923 Life magazine cover was surely lurking somewhere in Maurice Sendak's memory when he conceived the chefs in his In the Night Kitchen –
One of Parrish's most famous images, a virtuoso display of his technique, was 'The Lantern Bearers', which also appeared in a magazine (Collier's, in 1908) –
  Parrish's supersaturated colour was achieved by laying on successive glazes, in a particular technique that he discovered while laid up with tuberculosis. His ultra-intense cobalt blue was so characteristic that it became known as Maxfield Parrish Blue.
  As for the image above – 'Daybreak', his most famous painting – this became the most popular art print of the 20th century, at least in America where the numbers sold equated to one for every four homes. Parrish regarded it as his 'great painting', and the original has been in private hands ever since it was first sold. It was bought at auction in 2006 by Mel Gibson's then wife Robyn Moore, who paid $7.6 million. Four years later it sold again for $5.2 million – which would suggest she didn't exactly bag a bargain, but that price tag still makes Parrish one expensive painter.

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