When I posted my links below to the artists’ bios it made me think once again about Maxfield Parrish. I hadn’t thought about him in years. His paintings always struck me as otherworldly in their beauty and strangely self-contradictory: His draftsmanship is razor-sharp, photo-real – yet the color and atmosphere is ethereally luminous, like nothing you’d ever actually see in this world; his subject matter seems at first to be remarkably monotonous – landscapes, girls on rocks, more rocks, more girls – and yet each picture is fresh, powerful, occasionally shockingly composed and inviting the viewer to walk into it and look around; the figures are classically chaste and tasteful – and yet there’s an undeniable erotic element bubbling just under the surface. The final contradiction is the fact that these opposing ideas don’t clash with each other, but blend in a harmonious symphony on canvass.
His life was equally interesting. He painted what he wanted to paint, and yet was one of the most successful artists in history. He lived to be 96 years old. His last painting, ominously titled Getting Away From It All, was completed when he was 91. I don’t know about you but I’d like to be doing work of that quality when I’m 91. Another contradiction is that he stayed married to his wife for nearly sixty years – yet for most of that time he seems to have spent with his favorite model, Sue Lewin, in his studio – a separate building on the same property. Whether it was innocent or not, it’s still part of that contradictory phenomena surrounding Mr. Parrish. I only recently learned this last bit of irony while flipping through a book, The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, recently at a bookstore. The Author, Alma Gilbert, has written some great essays you can read here that give a fascinating insight into the life of a successful and brilliant American artist.
I also noticed that I just missed an exhibition of his original oil paintings here in Southern California. That same exhibition has moved to the Telfair Museum of Savannah Georgia until November 27, 2005. So if you’re anywhere near there you can do what I didn’t – go check it out.
Some original antique posters and biographical information at The Parrish House.
Some more reasonably priced posters, and a chance to look at more of his work for free on-line at AllPosters.com.