The Reservoir

Printed on #1-grade, 10-point cover weight paper. Perfect for mounting or framing. Size: 24 x 36″.

About Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield Parrish (July 25, 1870 – March 30, 1966) was an American painter and illustrator active in the first half of the twentieth century. He is known for his distinctive saturated hues and idealized neo-classical imagery.

Launched by a commission to illustrate L. Frank Baum’s Mother Goose in Prose in 1897, his repertoire included many prestigious projects including Eugene Field’s Poems of Childhood (including 8 color plates) (1904) (see illustration) and such traditional works as Arabian Nights (including 12 color plates) (1909). Books illustrated by Parrish, in addition to those that include reproductions of Parrish’s work—including A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales (including 10 color plates) (1910), The Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics (including 8 color plates) (1911) and The Knave of Hearts (including 23 color images) (1925) – are highly sought-after collectors items.

He had numerous commissions from popular magazines in the 1910s and 1920s including Hearst’s, Colliers, and Life. He was also a favorite of advertisers, including Wanamaker’s, Edison-Mazda Lamps, Fisk Tires, Colgate and Oneida Cutlery. In the 1920s, Parrish turned away from illustration and concentrated on painting for its own sake. Androgynous nudes in fantastical settings were a recurring theme. He continued in this vein for several years, living comfortably off the royalties brought in by the production of posters and calendars featuring his works. An early favorite model was Kitty Owen in the 1920s. Later another favorite, Susan Lewin, posed for many works, and was employed in the Parrish household for many years. Parrish himself posed for many images that featured male—and occasionally female—figures (see Potpourri, 1905).

Parrish’s art features dazzlingly luminous colors; the color Parrish blue was named in acknowledgement. He achieved the results by means of a technique called glazing where bright layers of oil color separated by varnish are applied alternately over a base rendering (Parrish usually used a blue and white monochromatic underpainting).

He would build up the depth in his paintings by photographing, enlarging, projecting and tracing half- or full-size objects or figures. Parrish then cut out and placed the images on his canvas, covering them with thick, but clear, layers of glaze. The result is realism of elegiac vivacity. His work achieves a unique three-dimensional appearance, which does not translate well to coffee table books.

The outer proportions and internal divisions of Parrish’s compositions were carefully calculated in accordance with geometric principles such as root rectangles and the golden ratio. In this Parrish was influenced by Jay Hambidge’s theory of Dynamic Symmetry.

Parrish devised many innovative techniques which no other major artist has successfully copied. A technique which Parrish used frequently involved creating a large piece of cloth with a geometric pattern in stark black-and-white (such as alternate black and white squares, or a regular pattern of black circles on a white background). A human model (often Parrish himself) would then pose for a photograph with this cloth draped naturally on his or her body in a manner which intentionally distorted the pattern. Parrish would develop a transparency of the photo, then project this onto the canvas of his current work in progress. Using black graphite on the white canvas, Parrish would painstakingly trace and fill in all the black portions of the projected photo. The result was astonishing: in the finished painting, a human figure would be seen wearing a distinctive geometrically-patterned cloth which draped realistically and accurately.

In 1931, he declared to the Associated Press, “I’m done with girls on rocks”, and opted instead to focus on landscapes. Though never as popular as his earlier works, he profited from them. He would often build models of the landscapes he wished to paint, using various lighting setups before deciding on a preferred view, which he would photograph as a basis for the painting (see for example, The Millpond). He lived in Plainfield, New Hampshire, near the Cornish Art Colony, and painted until he was 91 years old. He was also an avid machinist.

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