Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Norton Art Gallery Maxfield Parrish Exhibition
Maxfield Parrish Prints of Fantasies and Fairy-Tales Begin Four-Month Exhibition at R.W. Norton Art Gallery
Shreveport, LA—For seventy years he painted dreams, creating form and face for the mist of imagination and human emotion—all in bold and luminescent colors. From the 1890s to the 1960s, Maxfield Parrish enjoyed a reputation as the most popular artist in America and excelled in many avenues of art.
Print media was one of these, as visitors will see at R.W. Norton Art Gallery, January 26 to April 11. “Fantasies and Fairy Tales: Maxfield Parrish and the Art of The Print,” features 126 examples of his work in advertisements, books, illustrations, lithographs, magazine covers, and posters.
The exhibition comes from Trust for Museum Exhibitions, based in Washington, D.C. The Norton is its only venue in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
During its four-month run, the display will occupy a prominent space among the twenty-four galleries in the museum, which exhibits, year-round, seven centuries of art from its 3,723-piece permanent collection. There is no admission charge to the museum or to its forty acres of grounds and botanical gardens.
“Parrish arose as an extremely popular painter among the general population in America in the early- to mid-twentieth century,” comments Everl Adair, director of research and rare collections at the Norton. “In his day critics were not always kind to him, which often happens to an artist the public loves. Over the past few decades, however, respect for him from art historians has gone up considerably. So have prices for Parrish works.”
Young museum goers may marvel at images new to their eyes. Older visitors will recognize art that for decades graced pages of children’s storybooks. Parrish’s colors, his subject matter of classic figures, and his composition and precise detail rivet the eye.
Those same qualities drew adults to his creations. From 1904 to 1911, his illustrations appeared on the covers of Collier’s, a highly popular general interest magazine. Other publications, such as Century, Ladies Home Journal, and Scribner’s Magazine also adorned their covers with his work. Parrish created fairy-tale pictures for calendars of two large companies--Detroit-based D.M. Ferry & Co., a seed enterprise, as well as for General Electric-Edison Mazda Lamps.
By the 1920s, the Pennsylvania-born Parrish (1870-1966) was the highest-paid artist in America. It’s estimated that one in four American households displayed one of his creations, such as Spirit of the Night (1919), Daybreak (1922), The Lamp Seller of Bagdad (1923), and Ecstasy (1930)—the cover art on the exhibition brochure.
As his reputation soared, so did the reproduction values of his works on the printed page. Parrish challenged lithographers to step beyond the traditional four-color separation process and reproduce his art with as many as six to sixteen separations. By doing so, they rendered even more precisely the brilliant color, layering, and glazing of his paintings.
By the 1930s, weary of what he called his “girls-on-the-rocks” images, Parrish turned to his first love, landscapes, with the beauty of rural New England serving as his subject. For three decades the publishing firm, Brown & Bigelow Inc., based in St. Paul, Minnesota, reproduced Parrish landscapes on its products. It distributed seventeen million calendars, three million greeting cards, and one million prints. For each, the artist received royalties.
“Businessman with a brush,” critics sneered of Parrish’s output throughout his career.
In the decades after his death, however, art historians have reassessed earlier, harsh critiques of the popular painter. Many realized an artist should be judged by the quality of work rather than its intended uses.
“His work has found resonance in the American national psyche and allowed Americans to discover a commonality of thread in each other: the love of dreams, the love of splendor and the love of place within the beautiful country that he depicted,” comments Alma Garrett Smith, a Parrish authority.
For four months at the Norton, that resonance pulses in light and color of imagination come to life at the tip of Parrish’s brush.
R.W. Norton Art Gallery and Gardens: Located at 4747 Creswell Avenue, Shreveport, LA 71106-1899. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends, 1 to 5 p.m. There is no admission charge. Group tours of ten or more may be scheduled by appointment. Each month features a First Saturday Tour and a Saturday Speakers Series. Both are held at 2 p.m. and free to the public. No reservations are needed. For more information and a calendar of events, see www.rwnaf.org or call (318) 865-4201.