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Maxfield Parrish (July 25, 1870 - March 30, 1966) was an American painter and illustrator.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he began drawing for his own amusement as a child. His given name was Frederick Parrish but he later adopted the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, Maxfield, as his middle name, and later as his professional name. His father was an engraver and landscape artist, and young Parrish's parents encouraged his talent. He attended Haverford College and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He entered into an artistic career that lasted for more than half a century, and which helped shape the Golden Age of illustration and the future of American visual arts.
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 (1904) and such traditional works as Arabian Nights (1909). Books illustrated by Parrish 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.
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. He lived near Cornish, New Hampshire and painted until he was 91 years old.
Technique and influence
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). Parrish's work defies categorization since he was part of no traditional movement or school, and developed an original and individual style. However, his work has been highly influential. Among recent homages was the 1995 music video, You Are Not Alone, featuring Michael Jackson and his then wife Lisa Marie Presley, in which they appear semi-nude in emulation of Parrish's most famous work, Daybreak 1922.
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.
The Irish musician Enya has also been inspired by the works of Parrish. For example, the cover art of her 1995 album, The Memory of Trees, is based on his painting Black Isles. She has also used his inspiration in a number of her music videos as well. The Elton John album, Caribou, has a Maxfield Parrish background. In 2001, Parrish was featured in a U.S. Post Office commemorative stamp series honoring American illustrators, including Rockwell Kent, Norman Rockwell, Frederic Remington, and 16 others.