Parrish, Maxfield

views updated May 29 2018

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Maxfield Parrish


Born July 25, 1870 in Philadelphia PA; died March 30, 1966; son of Stephen (an artist) and Elizabeth (Bancroft) Parrish; married Lydia Austin (a painter), June 1, 1895; children: John Dillwyn, Maxfield, Jr., Stephen, Jean. Education: Haverford College, B.A., 1892; attended Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Drexel Institute. Religion: Quaker.


Painter, 1890-1966; magazine illustrator, 1895-1966; book illustrator, 1897-1966. Exhibitions: Parrish's work has appeared in numerous solo and collective exhibitions, beginning with his first showing, at the Sixty-Third Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA, 1893-94, and then extending from the Exposition Universelle, Paris, France, 1900 and the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, NY, 1901, to retrospectives, such as Maxfield Parrish, A Second Look, Gallery of Modern Art, New York, NY, 1964, Master of Make Believe, Brandywine River Museum, 1974, American Illustrators Gallery, New York, NY, 1989, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, San Francisco, CA, 1995, and Maxfield Parrish, 1870-1966, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA, 1999. Parrish's murals still grace hotels and clubs in New York, NY, Philadelphia, PA, and San Francisco, CA. Many Parrish paintings are on permanent exhibit at the Cornish Colony Gallery, Cornish, NH.


Society of American Artists, Phi Kappa Sigma.


Thirty Favorite Paintings, Collier (New York, NY), 1908.


L. Frank Baum, Mother Goose in Prose, Way & Williams (Chicago, IL), 1897.

Opie Read, Bolanyo: A Novel, Way & Williams (Chicago, IL), 1897.

Emma Rayner, Free to Serve, Copeland & Day (Boston, MA), 1897.

Albert Lee, The Knave of Hearts: A Fourth of July Comedietta, Russell (New York, NY), 1897.

William Mill Butler, Whist Reference Book, Yorkston (Philadelphia, PA), 1898.

Kenneth Grahame, The Golden Age, Bodley Head (London, England), 1899.

Washington Irving, A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty . . ., Russell (New York, NY), 1900.

Kenneth Grahame, Dream Days, Bodley Head (London, England), 1902.

Arthur Cosslett Smith, The Turquoise Cup and The Desert, Scribner (New York, NY), 1903.

Eugene Field, Poems of Childhood, Scribner (New York, NY), 1904.

Edith Wharton, Italian Villas and Their Gardens, Century (New York, NY), 1904.

Guy Wetmore Carryl, The Garden of Years and Other Poems, Putnam (New York, NY), 1904.

The Arabian Nights, Their Best-Known Tales, edited by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora A. Smith, Scribner (New York, NY), 1909.

The Children's Book, edited by Horace Elisha Scudder, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1910.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys, Duffield (New York, NY), 1910.

Hildegarde Hawthorne, Lure of the Garden, Century (New York, NY), 1911.

The Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics, edited by Francis Turner Palgrave, Duffield (New York, NY), 1911.

King Alberts Book, edited by Thomas H. H. Caine, Daily Telegraph (London, England), 1914.

Louise Saunders, The Knave of Hearts, Scribner (New York, NY), 1925.

Ealeen Stein, Troubador Tales. Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1929.

Maxfield Parrish: A Treasury of Art and Children's Literature, compiled by Alma Gilbert, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1995.

A Treasury of Poems, compiled and edited by Laurence S. Cutler and Judy Goffman Cutler, Pomegranate (San Francisco, CA), 1998.


The Maxfield Parrish Poster Book, introduction by Maurice Sendak, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1974.

Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make Believe (exhibition catalog), Brandywine River Museum (Chadds Ford, PA), 1974.

"In the Beginning": Twenty-five Maxfield Parrish Drawings from the Men's Day Life Class at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1892-1894, compiled by Virginia Hunt Reed, Imperial Printers (Hartford, VT), 1976.

John Goodspeed Stuart, Young Maxfield Parrish: His Early Illustrated Letters and Sketches, J.G. Stuart (Aurora, CO), 1992.

Maxfield Parrish: The Poster Book, introduction by Alma Gilbert, Tenn Speed Press (Berkeley, CA), 1994.

Contributor to periodical publications, including Harper's Weekly, Ladies' Home Journal, Scribner's Magazine, Century, Life, and Collier's.


Having lived into his nineties and been active as a painter and illustrator for seven decades, Maxfield Parrish died, at his beloved home, The Oaks, in New Hampshire, on March 30, 1966. Eulogies and praise followed. John Canaday, art critic for the New York Times, called Parrish, in his obituary, "a superb technician and a considerable wit as a storyteller." Indeed, Parrish "enjoyed a charmed career," as Ken Johnson noted in Art in America, beginning his career in the 1890s and continuing on to the 1960s. He lived so long and so well that there were those who thought he had died long before 1966. Dubbed "the common man's Rembrandt" by Smithsonian contributor Bruce Watson, Parrish created a dream world for Americans at the turn of the twentieth century and beyond, a fantasy land of beautifully colored, translucent skies, medieval castles, lush gardens, ethereal girl-women, and Eden-like images of a world that never was. This romantic, Pre-Raphaelite image captured the fascination of a millennial population harkening back to an imagined "good old days."

As Michael Scott Joseph summarized in Dictionary of Literary Biography, "No American artist gained greater popularity or commercial success during the first three decades of the twentieth century than Maxfield Parrish. His combination of ethereal colors, exotic characters, and fanciful castles became a feature of American popular culture." Parrish was everywhere in the first half of the century, the Golden Age of Illustration: his rich, witty artwork adorned the covers of Scribner's Magazine, Century, Life, and Colliers, while his advertising work promoted products from Jell-o to Fisk Tires and chocolates. Children's books soon bore the Parrish imprimatur, his name taking pride of place over that of the writer's. Parrish murals also decorated hotels and clubs on both coasts, and his art prints became a staple in one out of four American households. In the first decades of the twentieth century, Parrish won high fame for his glowing visions of pretty girls and fantastic landscapes—what art critic Clement Greenberg called his "hallucinatory high-octane realism"—but he gradually left those subjects for a less commercial style, yet always maintained the same high degree of craftsmanship and attention to detail. Joseph further noted, "Parrish was a popular artist in the best sense of the word. Supremely capable of meeting the demands of art for mass consumption, he never sacrificed his personal standards." Parrish's career was marked by loud public acclaim, great amounts of cash, and an artistic sensibility that surpassed both. By the 1930s he was able to concentrate on art dearest to his heart, landscape painting, and for the next several decades lived a quiet life, relatively obscure in his New Hampshire home while American art followed the turbulent trends of Abstract Expressionism. But with the coming of the 1960s and Pop Art, Parrish received a second life: he once again became popular with college students and in the home, his prints adorning dormitory and living room walls. Then, after this autumnal rebirth of popularity, Parrish "died as a dreamer should—peacefully," remarked Watson. But Watson also contended that the world did not really know the real Maxfield Parrish: "like his paintings, layered in coats of varnish and glaze, Parrish remains hidden beneath a veneer." And for all his popularity, Parrish was always self-deprecating about his work. He never tried to send a message to his audience. His response to an admirer who wanted him to tell the story behind a painting he did for Curtis Publishing in 1910 is typical: "What is the meaning of it all? It doesn't mean an earthly thing, not even a ghost of an allegory: no science enlightening agriculture: nobody enlightening anything. The endeavor is to present a painting which will give pleasure without tiring the intellect: something beautiful to look upon: a good place to be in. Nothing more."

Quaker Roots

Parrish was born on July 25, 1870, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Christened Frederick at birth, Parrish was called Fred by friends and family; as a young man entering the art world he added his paternal grandmother's maiden name, Maxfield, to his own, and it was that name by which the rest of the world knew him. His parents, Stephen and Elizabeth Bancroft Parrish, were wealthy Quakers with artistic leanings; Stephen Parrish was an accomplished painter and etcher in his own right. However, in his youth, Stephen had been forced to hide his own sketching talent because of the Quaker taboo against creating graven images. He was determined that his son would not have to deal with such a frustrating state of affairs, and encouraged the young boy's natural aptitude for sketching. His mother, meanwhile, came from a family of machinists, and it was from her side that Parrish garnered an appreciation for the utilitarian, growing up to appreciate both art and the artisan. As a seven year old, Parrish drew a dragon remarkably presaging some of the themes and line of his later work. His father left the stationery business he established in Philadelphia that same year, and thereafter gave himself to art, teaching his son the craft of painting and etching at the same time. Parrish's parents instructed him at home and also took him to Europe for a prolonged tour from 1884 to 1886.

In 1888, Parrish began college at Haverford, where he continued to draw and even began to sell some of his early work. In his first years at Haverford, Parrish, influenced by his mother, was determined to become an architect. Slowly, however, he found that his real talent lay in illustration: playful caricatures dominate much of the sketch work of his late teenage years. His first sale, a drawing of clowns, was to the architect Walter Cape. After graduation in 1892, he continued his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he was mentored by Robert W. Vonnoh and Thomas P. Anschultz. By 1893 he was already exhibiting his artwork. He accepted several commissions for the design and painting of the University of Pennsylvania's Mask and Wig Club, in which Parrish's architectural, boy's-dream aesthetic began to emerge. As Sylvia Yount noted in her Maxfield Parrish, 1870-1966, "Parrish chose a fairy-tale theme as his decorative program, incorporating Elizabethan and commedia dell'arte players' masks of comedy; and storybook castles and characters—all elements of his later work." At the center of the room was the Old King Cole mural, a triptych based on the nursery rhyme done in "a style suggestive of the art of such English illustrators as Randolph Caldecott and Walter Crane," according to Yount. This mural would later be revived in one done for the Knickerbocker Hotel in 1905 and thereafter transferred to the St. Regis Hotel.

Artist Emergent

During the 1890s, Parrish also studied briefly with Howard Pyle at the Drexel Institute. There he met Lydia Austin, a painter and instructor at Drexel—like Parrish, Austin was a Quaker from the northeast. The two were married on June 1, 1895, just as Parrish's first magazine covers were published. Parrish's work on the Old King Cole mural attracted the attention of an editor at Harper and Brother's Publishers, and he was commissioned to do the 1895 Easter cover for Harper's Bazaar, a Pre-Raphaelite illustration of two young girls, in medieval dress, holding the masthead to the magazine as well as lilies. According to Yount, "Quite unlike his whimsical caricatures, this work revealed the artist's penchant for an evocative romanticism that would become his other defining style." During the last years of the nineteenth century, Parrish would produce many more magazine covers, winning a reputation as one of the most desirable cover artists in the country. Though he was gaining popularity as an illustrator, Parrish still thought of himself primarily as a painter, as his 1896 work, The Sandman, attests. This uncommissioned work bears "the hallmarks of [Parrish's] future production—from the romantic castles and majestic oak to the suggestion of self portrait—that Parrish would later consider to be the most significant of his fledgling career," according to Yount.

Still, in the production of his magazine covers, Parrish was perfecting a personal technique that would influence both his commercial and fine art work. "Parrish employed a variety of techniques in this early magazine work," according to Joseph. "He sometimes drew with a lithographic crayon on Steinbach paper and sometimes used wash, ink, and lithographic crayon. Afterward, he photographed his illustrations and colored the prints. He then varnished them and finished them in oil glazes when they were dry." The fine-tuned process generated luminous, fairy-tale like artwork that seemed ideally suited to children's books.

Parrish began illustrating children's books in 1897, with L. Frank Baum's Mother Goose in Prose. Parrish's drawings show to advantage his humor and fancy, but also display his sense of architectural design. Joseph explained that "the landscape of Mother Goose in Prose evokes a bygone era that actually never was. Like the imaginary worlds of the late-Victorian illustrators such as Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham, the world of Parrish's Mother Goose in Prose fancifully conflates elements of divergent periods and milieus: its castled towns synthesize Gothic and Dutch architectural motifs that invite a mood of nostalgic longing for a moment in history when, one imagines, medieval grandeur might have been wedded to bourgeois civility." As Joseph further noted, Parrish's fifteen black-and-white illustrations for Baum's work "confirmed his reputation as an illustrator of charm and ability," and their "awkward commonplace congeniality reveals the artist at his comical best." Classic illustrations from that work include Blacksheep, Blacksheep and Humpty Dumpty, the latter which has become something of an icon of that tale. Yount found that Parrish's illustrations for the same work "ranged from the whimsical to the lyrical, revealing the artist's talent for caricature and romance as well as his technical skill in combining media." Yount went on to note that Parrish's "interests in nature an architecture also are apparent in the backgrounds of all the illustrations," and that the "popular and critical success of Mother Goose in Prose codified the characteristics of Parrish's fairy-tale phase, with its requisite medieval castles and costumes, into a visual language he would employ in a wide range of future commissions, from hotel-bar murals to advertisements."

The success of this illustrated children's book led to other such projects. In 1898, Parrish was commissioned to provide illustrations for Washington Irving's 1809 title, Knickerbocker's History of New York. Joseph praised Parrish for his "canny, tongue-in-cheek illustrations" in that title, which are "well matched to Irving's satiric history, yet make no attempt to reproduce the flavor of the period in which Irving wrote." Joseph felt that some of Parrish's drawing actually anticipate the work of Maurice Sendak in The Night Kitchen. This was followed by artwork for Kenneth Grahame's memoirs, The Golden Age and Dream Days, "warm and energetic illustrations [that] enliven the works considerably," according to Joseph, who also referred to these black and white illustrations as "photographically realistic pictures." This book brought Parrish's work to the attention of art lovers across the Atlantic, even drawing praise from the noted critic and Oxford University Slade Professor of Art, Hubert von Herkomer. Further book commissions followed: artwork for Eugene Field's Poems of Childhood, for The Arabian Nights as edited by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora A. Smith, and for works by Nathaniel Hawthorne. These later children's books were done in color.

Life at The Oaks

Commissions for magazine covers, advertising, and children's books allowed Parrish to indulge a new creative outlet. In 1898 he and his wife moved to Plainfield, New Hampshire, there to create, over the next decade, a home and studio. Parrish's strong sense of architectural form led him to construct his famous, eccentrically designed home, The Oaks, near the artists' colony of Cornish, New Hampshire. There, he and his wife raised their four children while Parrish created his world-famous illustrations in a gargantuan art studio just over the lawn. The Oaks, as Joseph explained, was central both to Parrish's reputation and to his creativity, as the house "commanded public attention through articles written about it in many architectural journals. Parrish himself often borrowed some of the architectural features from The Oaks for his book and magazine illustrations; its latches and intricate hinges, for example, appear in the castle setting of his illustrations for The Knave of Hearts, written by Parrish's neighbor Louise Sanders."

Parrish's sense of architectural design runs throughout his artwork; his children's books, for example, often utilize a geometric sense of form in order to evoke emotional states. Joseph emphasized that "geometric designs recur throughout Parrish's work and reflect the artist's adherence to Jay Ham bridge's neoclassical theory of Dynamic Symmetry, which involves laying out designs and compositions as a series of divisions based upon the rectangle" The three-dimensional quality of his drawings were heightened, moreover, by Parrish's innovation of working in colored glazes. The glazes offered a sort of translucent quality, enabling viewers to look through his work, not just at it. It has been noted that Parrish discovered the use of such glazes while recuperating from a bout of tuberculosis in 1901, at Saranac Lake, New York. Insisting on working outside even in the depths of a cold winter, he began using glazes because they did not freeze the way his inks did. Further recuperation took him to Arizona with his wife where he worked on a series of landscape illustrations of the Grand Canyon and the desert for Century magazine. This work filled him with such pleasure and fascination that he promised himself one day he would devote himself to landscape painting exclusively.

During the early years of the twentieth century, Parrish continued to be the most highly demanded and highly paid of magazine illustrators. He worked for Century, Ladies' Home Journal and others while also producing luminous pictures for Edith Wharton's Italian Villas and Their Gardens, published in 1904. He also began painting children's illustrations on a grander scale, including a thirty-by-eight foot mural of Old King Cole, a mural of The Pied Piper, and another of Sing a Song of Sixpence. He also created an eighteen-panel mural for the Curtis Publishing Company Building that dazzled the critics. A contributor to the Ladies' Home Journal, for example, marveled at Parrish's depiction of "a land where nobody is old," and further noted that "the whole will be a wonderfully successful result of the artist's idea to present a series of paintings that will refresh and 'youthen' the spirit and yet will not tire the eye." Additionally, advertising posters and illustrations continued to provide a steady source of income. Ferry's Seeds was added to his list of clients, and one of his most successful commissions was for Crane Chocolates in Cleveland, for which he painted scenes that appeared on holiday gift boxes in 1916 (the subject was Omar Khayyam) and 1917 (Cleopatra). It was this work that made his name familiar to the American public because Crane named the boxes "The Maxfield Parrish Package." This was a strategy Parrish did not like. "You see," he wrote to Crane, "I do not mind your saying that the design is by me, but I somehow don't like the idea that the article sold, or rather its container is mine. Because if I did many things of this kind for different kinds of merchandise, I would become the god-father of each article."

The Master of Print Art

In this period, youth seems to have charmed Parrish in other ways; he began to live with his very young model, Sue Lewin, in his large studio. They lived together from 1911 to 1953, during which time Parrish painted Lewin in such notable works as The Lantern Bearers, Rubaiyat, Djer Kiss, Garden of Allah, and the enormously popular Daybreak, which was completed in 1922. This last painting—which Hilarie M. Sheets called "a subtly erotic vision of youth set in an Arcadian landscape"—was his first painting commissioned as a mass-produced print. Joseph describes its extraordinary appeal: "The painting became the decorating sensation of the decade as hotels exhibited it in their lobbies; housewives used it to brighten their kitchens or dining rooms; and collegians accorded it a place of pride among their pennants, crew oars, fencing foils, and moose heads." The original, moreover, sold for a whopping $10,000 at the Scott and Fowles gallery in New York.

In 1925, Parrish completed his last illustrated book, Louise Sanders's The Knave of Hearts, which Joseph calls "his unquestionable masterpiece," adding that the illustration, "printed in rich colors on heavy, coated stock, the bold, rectangular compositions; deep and luminous landscapes; elaborate costumes; droll improvisations; tender Pre-Raphaelite youths; and the vigorous old monarch coalesce to give The Knave of Hearts a singular visual opulence." However, by the mid-1920s Parrish was successful enough that he was able to be more discriminating about the work he accepted on commission. He did a series of calendars for General Electric, and his most famous painting, Daybreak, was completed for the House of Art in New York City. The popularity this work achieved was something Parrish never managed to duplicate during his lifetime, and by 1929 he decided to give up the art-print market. During the 1920s he became known for his frequent use of "Maxfield Parrish blue" and for his many paintings of girls sitting on rocks. Of his famous color, Parrish once said, "My tiresome blue we seem to hear so much about is just ordinary blue you can buy around the corner, but what I put next to it is what makes it what it is."

By 1931 Parrish tired of "Girl-on-Rock" paintings. He vowed, instead, to concentrate on landscape painting, a subject he believed to be his greatest strength. Although he did accept an offer to paint landscapes for the greeting card company Brown & Bigelow in 1934, he was mostly free to paint as he pleased. Johnson, writing in Art in America, noted that "in the landscapes he worked on exclusively from the age of sixty onward, Parrish pursued the picturesque with an arrestingly idiosyncratic dedication." In 1936 Time named Parrish among the "three most popular artists in the world." In his landscape works such as Early Autumn, White Birch, Daniel's Farm, Dusk and Swiftwater, Parrish created lasting images of rural America with his signature luminescence. Watson described this quality thusly: "You don't look at a Maxfield Parrish; you look into it, feeling it beckon you." Parrish found a thematic freedom that illustration couldn't offer him. He seemed to find his own tremendous monetary success untrustworthy as a marker of his artistic value; he once remarked ruefully that "there are countless artists whose shoes I am not worthy to polish whose prints would not pay the printer." His enormous success as an illustrator provided him with tremendous rewards, including his final period of creativity, in which he used his wealth and reputation to create only what he thought beautiful.

When Parish's wife, Lydia, died late in 1953, his long-time companion, Susan Lewin, expected he would finally marry her. But when no proposal was forthcoming, she finally left Parrish to marry a childhood sweetheart. Parrish spent the final years alone at The Oaks, and was mildly surprised when he once again became famous, pronounced the precursor of Pop Artists in the 1960s. Andy Warhol collected him, retrospectives were mounted. Parrish bemusedly wondered how all the avant garde types could find anything to enjoy in his work. After his death in 1966, Parrish's artwork continued to be enjoyed by new generations. It was discovered in the 1980s and 1990s that his paintings and illustrations are particularly well displayed on a medium the artist could never have imagined: the computer. CDs of his work sell well, and prices of his originals range in the millions of dollars. When Philadelphia was threatened with losing one of his murals, Dream Garden, to a casino in Las Vegas, citizen groups banded together to have it declared a historic monument and kept in Philadelphia. One element of his painting, his heavy use of glazes and varnishes does, however, threaten his longevity. Such glazes tend to yellow and crack over time, thus making the job of conservation and preservation of both his murals and paintings a monumental task.

If you enjoy the works of Maxfield Parrish

If you enjoy the works of Maxfield Parrish, you might want to check out the following:

The illustrations of Arthur Rackham.

The commercial art of J. C. Leyendecker.

The fantasy art of Edmund Dulac.

The paintings of Edward Colley Burne-Jones.

Parrish has long had his ups and downs with the critics: his very popularity has suggested to many fine arts critics that his work is not of the highest quality. His career, in fact, is a living example of high versus low or common art. Allison Eckhardt Ledes, writing in Antiques, noted that Parrish was "lionized and dismissed by critics in cyclical fashion throughout his lifetime and after his death." Johnson similarly observed that "the illustrator Maxfield Parrish devoted himself heart and soul to delighting popular taste for pictorial beauty and made tons of money doing so. This has not endeared him to our artistic intelligentsia." Johnson went on to note, "At best, [Parrish] has been appreciated from certain specialized perspectives such as that of Pop . . . or of the history of illustration (Parrish was one of the stars of the so-called Golden Age of Illustration). And yet, . . . Parrish exceeds such limited frames of reference." Johnson felt that there is "something quietly miraculous about his paintings; by virtue of exquisite craftsmanship, romantic vision and strangely heightened, even halucinatory, perceptual qualities, they hold their own with no special pleading." If they are kitsch, then they are, Johnson concluded, "great kitsch." In the end, whether lionized or demonized, Parrish's fame lives on. As Robert Taylor noted in the Boston Herald soon after Parrish's death, the artist was a vogue unto himself: "Today . . . Parrish is 'IN,' but this only means that he is back in vogue with the current batch of intelligentsia and a group of tastemasters who are busy creating tastes for each other. He has never been 'OUT' with the public. If you grew up keeping cool with Coolidge, there was probably a Maxfield Parrish somewhere in your home. But if you're a mod teenager today there may be a Parrish around, too. He appeals to practically everybody. He was probably the last of his kind."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Cutler, Laurence, C., and Judy Goffman Cutler, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, Pomegranate (San Francisco, CA), 1995.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 188: American Book and Magazine Illustrators to 1920, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Gilbert, Alma M., The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, Pomegranate (San Francisco, CA), 1990.

Gilbert, Alma M., Maxfield Parrish: The Masterworks, Ten Speed Press (Berkeley, CA), 1992.

Gilbert, Alma M., Maxfield Parrish: The Landscapes, Ten Speed Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.

Gomes, Rosalie, Buried Treasures: The Black-and-White Work of Maxfield Parrish, edited by Fershid Bharucha, Pomegranate (San Francisco, CA), 1992.

Ludwig, Coy, Maxfield Parrish, Schiffer (Atglen, PA), 1973.

Sendak, Maurice, Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures, Noonday (New York, NY), 1990.

Wagner, Margaret E., Maxfield Parrish and the Illustrators of the Golden Age, Pomegranate (San Francisco, CA), 2000.

Yount, Sylvia, Maxfield Parrish, 1970-1966, Abrams (New York, NY), 1999.


American Artist, November, 1985, Hilton Brown, "Unfamiliar Views and Distant Lands: How Ten Artists Composed Design Elements to Make Interesting Paintings," p. S30; September, 1999, "Daydream Believer," p. 78.

Antiques, November, 1995, "Romance and Fantasy," p. 592; July, 1999, Allison Eckhardt Ledes, "Maxfield Parrish: A Man for His Age," p. 22.

Antiques & Collecting, June, 1999, Ester Raye Dean, "The Magic of Maxfield," p. 32.

Architectural Digest, December, 1999, Ann E. Berman, "Newport News: An Illustration Museum Debuts in Rhode Island," p. 76.

Art in America, March, 1996, Ken Johnson, "Kitsch Meets the Sublime," p. 80.

ARTnews, October, 1998, Miriam Seidel, "They'll Always Have Parrish," p. 49.

Booklist, February 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Maxfield Parrish: A Treasury of Art and Children's Literature, p. 929.

Boston Herald, May 24, 1966, Robert Taylor, "Maxfield Parrish Is In."

Christian Science Monitor, March 3, 1989, Theodore F. Wolff, "Parrish, an Illustrator Deserving More Respect," p. 11.

Horn Book, January, 2000, Michael Patrick Hearn, "Those Maxfield Parrish Blues," p. 110.

New York, June 12, 2000, Mark Stevens, "Past Perfect?," p. 61.

New York Times, March 31, 1966, John Canaday, "Maxfield Parrish."

New York Times Book Review, October 10, 1999, p. 22.

Saturday Evening Post, March, 2000, "The Timeless Art of Maxfield Parrish," p. 58.

School Arts, April, 1997, Blake D. Bradford, "Maxfield Parrish," p. 33.

School Library Journal, November, 1995, Virginia Golodetz, review of Maxfield Parrish: A Treasury of Art and Children's Literature, p. 89.

Smithsonian, July, 1999, Bruce Watson, "Beyond the Blue: The Art of Maxfield Parrish," p. 52.

Yankee, October, 1985, "To Be Sorted Later," p. 142.


Bud Plant Illustrated Books, (1999), Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr.

Grove Art Online, (September 27, 1999).

National Museum of American Illustration (Newport, Rhode Island), (March 9, 2004).*

Maxfield Parrish

views updated May 14 2018


British design firm

Founded: by designer Nigel Preston, 1972. Preston born in Reading, Berkshire, 1946; studied painting and graphic art at Dartington Hall, then interior design; by late 1960s was designing for popular musicians. Company History: Maxfield Parrish cloth collection launched, 1983; signed Fashion Stage as distributor, 1991. Company Address: 5 Congreve St., London SE17 1TJ, England.




McDowell, Colin, McDowell's Directory of Twentieth Century Fashion, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1985.


d'Aulay, Sophie, "Cologne Delivers the Crowds; Three-Day German Show Had Excitement," in DNR, 12 August 1994.

Socha, Miles, et al., "New York Trade Shows: Getting Fancy for Spring," in WWD, 30 September 1999.


For centuries it was believed that by adorning the body with the skin of an animal, the wearer was thereby encouraged to develop its attributes. Accordingly, a lion denoted strength and courage, while a rabbit implied a rather inferior metamorphosis. In time certain types of fur, especially those more difficult to find such as ermine, became symbols of wealth, power, privilege, andultimatelyin Western culture, eroticism. The history of wearing animal skin is varied and responses to it differ from culture to culture and have changed with time. In contemporary Western culture, there is still a certain amount of prestige attached to the fur, yet less due to pressure by groups such as Lynx, the Green movement, and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

Leather, however, and its more "well-bred" counterpart suede, are still generally acceptable; in fact a whole mythology exists for the rebellious black leather jacket. These seemingly arbitrary distinctions and distortions can be set against the continuing success of the company Maxfield Parrish, whose name for some brings to mind the production of well-cut and crafted suede, sheepskin, and leather garments. The company was founded twenty years ago by designer Nigel Hayter Preston who was born in Reading, Berkshire in 1946. After studying painting and graphic design at Dartington Hall, Devon, Preston moved into interior design, toyed for a time with music, and in turn began designing clothes for his friends in the record industry.

This low-key venture took off so successfully that by the end of the 1960s Preston was producing stage outfits for names such as Suzy Quatro and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. From these humble beginnings Maxfield Parrish was to become an international label, synonymous in womenswear with the design and production of suede, leather, and sheepskin clothing which displayed unusual combinations of color thanks to Preston's studies in fine artand classic relaxed styles whose defined cutting betrays the discipline of a training in graphic design.

During the production cycle of the company's definitive garments it is the choosing of the skins which is of the utmost importance for the designer. Those of the softest, supplest kind are selected so they can be cut into and shaped like cloth, one of the company's trademarks. Preston handles the materials confidently, using the same methods other designers would utilize with more malleable wool, seen in classically styled outerwear such as the 1982 voluminous loose coats and jackets in soft blues, faded rose or beige, worn over softly draped skirts and cropped trousers. One of his more innovative methods is to overlap several skins to produce a montaged patchwork textured effect. This is used as a bolt of cloth from which he cuts various garments such as tubular or sarong skirts and tops.

For years, Preston and partner Brenda Knight worked in a design studio based in a Normandy chateau to creates sample collections of elegant, easy to wear garments which are then manufactured and distributed from the company's administrative base in London. By the middle 1990s Maxfield Parrish had become an international brand name in retail; the goods bearing the name were available in boutiques and stores in Europe and the United States.

Despite the fragmented nature of women's fashion at the end of the 20th century with its changing styles and alternative looks, there have always been lower profile designers more interested in producing elegant styles in the most refined materials. Maxfield Parrish is one such firm; it has relied on the ongoing development of new techniques in the cut and construction of leather, suede, and sheepskin, using only the finest materials, and availing its luxurious garments to a certain segment of society for which wearing fur or related accoutrements is of the utmost importance.

Caroline Cox;

updated by Owen James