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Painting in Dreams of Color
If there is a hallmark of the work of Maxfield Parrish, it is the brilliance of his colors. That along with enchanting figures set in pastoral landscapes make up the signature style of this twentieth century illustrator, and help explain just why he is one of the most beloved American artists in history.
Here we show our appreciation by ranking his work according to their significance and appeal–a top ten homage to an artist who reminds us how truly beautiful art can be.
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10. Very Little Red Riding Hood (1897)
Prominent forms and controlled color distinguish Maxfield Parrish’s early work. Not as complex as his other compositions of this time period, Red Riding Hood still shows a stylized take on the female figure and face that is in keeping with the work from this era. In this case, as it likely should, the red cape of of the nursery room story takes center stage in both color and design.
9. Sing a Song of Sixpence (1910)
Whimsical, lyrical and showing a love for architecture and nature, Sing a Song of Sixpence is one of many nursery rhyme illustrations Parrish created during his career. The medieval costuming and combination of a tight picture plane and rich pops of color and pattern are sweet spots for the artist.
8. Lady Violetta and the Knave (1923)
One of several famous works from The Knave of Hearts, Parrish’s last book commission, Lady Violetta is shown peering into an ornate oven to see if her baking tarts are done. This is but one of 26 powerhouse illustrations the artist created for the Louise Sander’s book riffing on Mother Goose nursery rhyme. The sumptuous, glowing color of the work is due to Parrish’s use of translucent glazes, a technique he is famous for.
7. Romance (1922)
Romance is one of Parrish’s three best-known paintings, along with Garden of Allah and Daybreak. It debuted in a blockbuster exhibition of Parrish’s work held by the Scott and Fowles gallery in New York City. It was sold for $10,000 and at that time made Parrish the highest paid artist in America.
6. Stars (1926)
Rarely talked about but showcased here is the fine line Maxfield Parrish walked between innocence and eroticism. Contemplative, charming and very much nude, the figure in Stars — like several other Parrish works — is put on display but the human body is presented as natural, lovely and almost abstracted when you take it to the shapes and colors displayed in the work as a whole.
5. Ecstasy (1930)
Parrish maintained a lucrative contract with General Electric from 1918-1934, creating a calendar image for their Edison Mazda Lamp Division every year. Ecstasy shows one of Parrish’s famous “girl on the rock” images, which began with Dawn (also showing a female in a toga-esque dress, cliffside and contemplating glorious skies) in 1918.
4. Moonlight Night: Winter (1942)
One of Parrish’s latest works, Moonlight Night: Winter, is so precisely drawn and crafted that there is something almost preternaturally still about the scene as a whole. Showing the artist’s gift for glowing blues, the painting is also a step away from the strong storytelling that earlier works present.
3. The Dinkey-Bird (1904)
An image that became an icon for youthful grace and abandon, The Dinkey-Bird is from a book of Parrish’s published images. The printing of the book marked the first time the artist’s work appeared in full color.
2. Daybreak (1922)
This painting is the first work that Parrish painted specifically for reproduction as an art print. It was extraordinarily successful and has become an image icon. The publisher, three years after the print hit the stands, estimated that one in every four households had a copy of Daybreak. In 1936, Time magazine put forth: “as far as the sale of expensive color reporductions is concerned, the three most popular artists in the world are van Gogh, Cezanne, and Maxfield Parrish.”
1. The Lantern Bearers
It all comes down to the most beautiful glow. In our minds, there is nothing more stunning in Maxfield Parrish’s oeuvre than the young costumed figures holding aloft glowing nimbi of light. The golden glow against Parrish’s famous blue sky is as magical and mesmerizing as a fairy tale come to life, which is what this iconic American artist’s work is really all about.