Maxfield Parrish was one of the most popular American artists of the 20th century. His engaging covers for Scribners and Life, murals such as Old King Cole and the Pied Piper, and posters, calendars, and paintings have delighted viewers for over 100 years. This is the first critical examination of Parrish's place in the history of American art and culture.
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Maxfield Parrish, the prodigiously gifted, turn-of-the-20th-century illustrator famous for his limpid blue landscapes and dreamy pubescent models draped in gossamer threads, has rolled in and out of artistic favor for nearly a century. In 1964, critic Lawrence Alloway wrote about Parrish's odd place in the history of American art: "He was the most popular artist the country ever produced, with prints in a quarter of all American homes at one time; and yet his kitschy compositions were considered risible among the educated art elite." Parrish himself had a sophisticated sense of his own place in the pantheon: "There are countless artists whose shoes I am not worthy to polish whose prints would not pay the printer," he wrote. "The question of judgement is a puzzling one." But new movements of the 1960s, including photo-realism and pop art, led to critical reappraisal of Parrish's oeuvre, and a few of the later new image painters, such as Joan Nelson, found sweet inspiration in his atmospheric skies and evocative, shadowy forests.
Parrish is finally receiving his due with this truly intelligent, fascinating book. It is the catalog to a traveling exhibition organized by the author, Sylvia Yount, the curator of collections at the Museum of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia--Parrish's alma mater and hometown, respectively. With Mark F. Bockrather, a conservator who elucidates Parrish's formidable craftsmanship, Yount has done a fine job of resurrecting Parrish yet again. She offers a sensitive analysis of the place his pastoral, idyllic, storybook innocence played in a world that Freud, the Great War, the Depression, and yet another world war inexorably tore to shreds. --Peggy MoormanFrom Booklist:
During most of his life, Maxfield Parrish was the most popular American artist, bar none. He is still popular; in 1996, his Daybreakreproductions of which are said to have been in one-fourth of all 1920s American households--sold at auction for $4.3 million. Yount recounts Parrish's career efficiently, relating his work to the development of commercial and gallery art alike without downplaying its distinctiveness and demotic appeal. Deprecated as kitsch by midcentury critics, Parrish's most familiar images, created to illustrate calendars, were of lissome young women posing ecstatically on rocky promontories before glowing, fantastically colored skies. Book illustration and murals occupied his early career, landscapes his later years. How and why he achieved the high-gloss intensity of his colors are the subjects of a fascinating pendant to Yount's main text by Mark F. Bockrath. The exhibition that this resplendent art book catalogs won't travel south of Philadelphia or west of Rochester, New York, but there is no good reason for the book not to reach libraries, not to mention hearts, throughout America. Ray Olson
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