Maxfield Parrish was as born as Fredrick Parrish in 1870 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He later changed his name to Maxfield, the maiden name of his paternal grandmother. His father, a painter and etcher, encouraged Parrish’s artistic interest at an early age by introducing him to many diverse styles, techniques, subject matters along with trips to Europe. Influenced by the Gothic and Renaissance architecture he saw in Europe, he enrolled at Haverford College to become an architect in 1888.
In 1892, he decided to take a new path and enrolled at The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where he first experimented with his unique glazing technique, which would later defined Parrish’s style as an artist. His technique of glazing incorporated bright layers of oil color separated by varnish that was applied alternately over a base rendering. Parrish usually used a “Parrish blue” and white as the under painting. This technique gave his work an incredible and unique three dimensional quality. Parrish was influenced by Howard Pyle, an illustrator at The Drexel Institute of Arts in Philadelphia. In 1895, this influence helped Maxfield Parrish obtain a magazine commission for the Harper’s Bazaar cover.
Maxfield Parrish illustrated L. Frank Baum’s Mother Goose in Prose in 1987. Other prestigious projects by Parrish include Eugene Field’s Poems of Childhood and Arabian Nights. In the 1910s and 1920s, Parrish continued to receive commissions by numerous publications, including Colliers, Life and Hearst’s. He also got work from several advertisers including Edison-Mazda Lamps, Fisk Tires, Colgate, Wanamaker’s and Oneida Cutlery.
In the 1920s, Parrish put aside illustration and focused on painting. For many years he painted nudes, using his nanny or often himself as a model. In the 1930s, his subjects changed to landscapes. Always innovative with technique, Maxfield Parrish would build models of the landscapes he wished to paint and with different lighting setups he would decide the best view for the painting. Once he was happy with the view, he would photograph the model as a basis for the painting.
His unique combination of color and fantasy scenes appealed to the mass audiences. Because his work was so accessible via popular magazines and the books that he illustrated, he was very much a public artist. In 2001, Maxfield Parrish was featured in a U.S. Post Office commemorative stamp series that honored twenty American Illustrators including Norman Rockwell, Frederic Remington and Rockwell Kent.
In 1962, at the age of 91, he stopped creating art as a result of poor health. Maxfield Parrish died at his home in New Hampshire called “The Oaks” in 1966 at the age of 95. The National Museum of American Illustration holds the largest collection of Parrish works totaling sixty-nine pieces and other samples can be found at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The San Diego Museum of Art, the Hood Museum of Art and the Cornish Colony Art Museum.