Maxfield Parrish: Blending Ancient and Modern

Katherine20th Century Art, American Paintings, Artist SpotlightLeave a Comment

The art of Maxfield Frederick Parrish is a window into a serene, dreamlike world. His illustrations of fairy tales and mythical places are reminiscent of childhood. They capture a sense of wonder.

His great technical skill coupled with his sensitivity quickly won him fans. Prints of his work were popular. A survey conducted in 1925 found that one out of four households owned a Parrish print.

Maxfield Parrish invoked the fanciful and timeless spirit of his subjects through unique methods. Brightness was achieved by painting on top of a clean, white base. Colors were made vibrant by repeatedly applying varnish and glazes. It was a time consuming task, but it was perfect for the calm and diligent Parrish. This yielded the rich saturation that became Parrish’s trademark. “Parrish blue,” a cobalt blue, became his signature color thanks to this technique. Photography, paper cut-outs, and other props were constructed to help complete his vision. Altogether, this created atmospheric works that are full of life.

Daybreak by Maxfield Parrish

Daybreak by Maxfield Parrish

One of the most popular of Parrish’s works was Daybreak. It depicts two youths lounging between two columns against a serene mountainous landscape. The rising sun washes pink and gold over the scene. It is an optimistic and peaceful painting. Blending ancient and modern, it is a fantasy that resonated with average Americans. Maxfield Parrish received praise for his composition, which he based upon Professor Jay Hambidge’s dynamic symmetry. This theory was based upon the rediscovery of ancient technique. Parrish paid attention to mathematical proportions and took multiple measurements. He blocked off parts of the painting and constructed every aspect carefully. This resulted in a balanced work that is naturally pleasing to the eye.

While his popularity diminished in the 1930s, Parrish never failed to captivate. He influenced other major artists and, each time he falls into obscurity, a new generation rediscovers him. Norman Rockwell considered him an idol. Andy Warhol collected his work. The realist, photorealist, and superrealist movements can all trace their origins back to Maxfield Parrish. Overall, these works continue to speak to something within us.


Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.

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