Monday, March 28, 2011

Maxfield Parrish Reworks a Painting

The Millpond  |  photo by Robin L. Perry

Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was an American illustrator known for his paintings of vibrant, lustrous colors, usually incorporating a beautiful blue that was named after him — Parrish blue. He worked by glazing, which means that he built up layers of oil color separated by layers of varnish. If you ever see a Maxfield Parrish painting in person, you'll be struck by its luminosity and truly jeweled tones.

International Paper Pocket Pal

If you have any involvement with printing, you also know that images are separated into four plates of color — yellow, magenta, cyan and black, and then printed in that same order.

While Parrish did not apply glazes in that color order, this is nonetheless very much the way he approached building up the colors of his paintings.

October  |  photo by Herbert P. Vose
Above is a painting discovered unfinished at the time of Maxfield Parrish's death (he was in the process of reworking it). It shows how he glazed by first using a white or neutral background and the predominant color of an element, usually blue. He would then build upon this first stage by adding additional colors and therefore depth. We can see that the foreground tree started out the same way as the blue background one, and that a non-opaque layer of magenta was added to the shadow, forming a dark, rich purple.

Parrish's method of working also shows that his primary interest was light and shadow, and in that area, he was particularly a master.

For those who are interested in glazing techniques, the definitive book on Maxfield Parrish is by Coy Ludwig, who explains in great detail Parrish's methods of working.

Maxfield Parrish  |  Coy Ludwig  |  Watson Guptill  |  1973


  1. I thought I recognised the style as the last photo/book is the cover of a Moody Blues Album from the early 80's.

  2. The light in Parrish's paintings is breathtaking. Wasn't familiar with the specificities of the glazing technique - as always love learning something new here!!

  3. Hi, David - I'm not familiar with the album cover you mention, but I know they had some stunning ones, including the one I owned — Every Good Boy Deserves Favor.

  4. Hi, quintessence - I started out working in acrylics before oils, and probably for that reason, have always felt more comfortable with acrylics. I often build up colors thinly in acrylics, much like glazing, a technique most people don't associate with that medium.

  5. I always marveled at the almost eerie and other worldly aspect of dreamy depth in Parrish's work. I know it isn't a popular view, but I have the greatest of respect for artists like Parrish, Rockwell, Wyeth, and Colville, who paint in a representational style. Years of study, sketching, and training, as well as innate talent, seem to be necessary to be able to paint in a realistic manner, and I find it lacking in the work of artists today, and in the Art Education programs.

    Not impressed by Rothko or Pollack. I mean they are interesting and original, but they lack visual and artistic depth, and certainly don’t require any special or advanced painting skills.

    Your description of how Parrish develops depth reminds me of the interview I did regarding the Pietro Annigoni portrait of Sonja Bata. Annigoni, who died in 1988, worked with Renaissance techniques and glazes that took a great degree of skill and were very time consuming. Such talent and patience are seldom seen in current art.

  6. I'm not really familiar with the album but I guess I saw this somewhere though I can't remember where. Perhaps I saw this online or on one of my colleagues shelves. But i'm glad that I learn new today than my usual daily routine which is searching for Website design New York.

  7. Thanks for visiting, Terry and Jenny!

    Terry, it might not surprise you to know that when I visit the National Gellery in Washington, D.C., I almost always start with the Renaissance paintings. I'm afraid that I spend so much time there, that I shortchange other periods!

  8. Mark, you are going to exile me as a philistine, but I have always thought that Parrish's work always had a hint of color by number in them.

  9. Buoni, my mother always accepted a differing opinion by quoting Mark Twain, who supposedly said, "Differences of opinion make horse races."