signed with the artist's initials M.P., l.r.; also signed Maxfield Parrish Windsor: Vermont, dated 1923 and titled The Canyon on the reverse
The original frame will accompany the lot.
Life Magazine, March 23, 1923, illustrated in color on the cover
Coy Ludwig, Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1973, pp. 101, 142, 200, illustrated p. 194
Paul Skeeters, Maxfield Parrish: The Early Years 1893-1930, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1973, illustrated in color p. 43, illustration of the cover in color, p. 334
William Holland and Douglas Congdon-Martin, The Collectible Maxfield Parrish, Atglen, Pennsylvania,1993, p. 88, illustrated, p. 169, illustrated
Alma Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish: The Masterworks, Berkeley, California, 1995, p. 75, illustrated in color p. 79
Laurence S. Cutler and Judy Goffman Cutler, Maxfield Parrish:A Retrospective, San Francisco, 1995
Alma Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish: The Landscapes, Berkeley, California, 1998, p. 10, illustrated in color p. 14
Alma Gilbert, Parrish and Photography, Plainfield, New Hampshire, 1998, fig. 42 illustrated in color
Laurence Cutler and Judy Goffman Cutler, Maxfield Parrish and the American Imagists, Edison, New Jersey, 2004, illustration of the House of Art print in color p. 261
None of us can forget our first experience seeing a Maxfield Parrish image reproduced in a book or a fine art print, but when an actual painting is encountered in a museum or a gallery, it far surpasses all previous experiences and expectations.
The present work, The Canyon was originally painted by Maxfield Parrish for a Life magazine cover issued on March 29, 1923, entitled Easter. Some months later the artist substantially changed the background in order to reproduce the painting as an art print for release during the spring of 1924. He also changed the name to the more appropriate, The Canyon. Parrish was one of the earliest artists to use short titles; others in his day traditionally used long sentences. He wanted his images to "speak for themselves," a modern art concept. Single word titles evoked images of whole scenes, particularly those with well-chosen words. Although unrecognized for this, his titles influenced other artists to follow.
In 1920, Parrish had signed an exclusive agreement with A. E. Reinthal and Stephen L. Newman, owners of the House of Art, New York art print publishers and distributors. The Canyon was scheduled to be the first art print released after his notorious, Daybreak a year earlier.
Starting at the age of 25, Parrish painted magazine covers, advertisements, posters and book illustrations, with several images exclusively used on Crane Chocolate gift box covers and offered to customers as art prints by submitting a coupon. The Crane images created such a popular sensation and overwhelming demand that they caused the artist to realize his art prints could be rewarding in their own right. In a contemporaneous letter to art print publisher Stephen Newman, Parrish said, "I have the complete print rights of these covers, Life buying only the right to use them as covers. Once in a while there will be some that I have tried to make a picture of beauty ... and I dare say some would make prints with a popular appeal." (Maxfield Parrish, Ludwig, fn: 15, Ch.5) From 1922, until his last painting for the House of Art in 1937, Parrish painted nineteen images issued as art prints, three of which were used as Life magazine covers, including The Canyon (formerly Easter), The Lute Players (Interlude), and Evening.
Between 1899 and 1924, Parrish created a total of twenty-four covers for Life, one of the nation's most popular magazines. Life began as a humorous magazine, later it was full of pictures, paintings and drawings, and still later, photographs. The renowned artist Charles Dana Gibson, art director and president of Life, commissioned Parrish for The Canyon with great hopes, having recognized the unusually striking images he had already successfully created. All of Parrish's covers for Life proved to be very profitable for the magazine. Historically, The Canyon stood out from his other Life covers because of its immense additional exposure as an art print.
In 1922, Parrish's art print of Daybreak was released by the House of Art, becoming the most reproduced art image in history. It reached an astounding production level of many millions of copies, far greater than ever expected. It was only months later that Parrish followed-up with The Canyon. He began to call himself the "businessman with a brush," especially after witnessing the vast untapped market for his increasingly popular images as art prints. Parrish became one of the first artists smart enough to copyright his art work originals and license his images for "a one-time use only." He said that these other artists paint a picture and just sell it, I paint a picture for use as a calendar, an art print, playing cards, a greeting card, and a puzzle, and then I sell the painting. I sell my painting five or six times.
In setting the stage to paint his next successful art print after Daybreak, Parrish took two major decisions. He used the same model from his pinnacle work, Kitty Owen, daughter of his friend William Jennings Bryan; politician, orator, Secretary of State, and thrice nominated Democratic candidate for President of the United States. Jean Parrish, his eleven year-old daughter, was the other Daybreak model. His second notion was to use the recently rediscovered theory of 'dynamic symmetry', which he used so successfully in Daybreak. Of the various components used in The Canyon, 'dynamic symmetry' embodied classical elements with a proportioning system of geometric forms, and coupled it neatly with a cavernous "Parrishscape". The ensuing art prints were and still are widely sought after. It proved to be a seminal work, even more so than Daybreak had been in terms of affecting his future style and technique.
Parrish openly embraced the theories advanced by Yale Professor Jay Hambidge, an historian-illustrator. Hambidge's derived his theories from ancient Greece (Jay Hambidge, Dynamic Symmetry The Greek Vase, New Haven, 1920) offering artists a formula for reproducing natural proportions in their works. Such symmetrical structuring became a major part of his art. It was a system for him with his earliest usage being in Daybreak and The Canyon. He started an art work by preparing a wooden board upon which he drew the 'dynamic symmetry' lines, subdividing the entire surface, then he laid a simple montage on the board using paper cutout figures sometimes taken from photographs of his models (see attached: two Dartmouth College images of model Kitty Owen). He concurrently laid out a rough background and again overlaid the force lines of 'dynamic symmetry,' almost etching-like, he precisely articulated the board with sub-images flowing from his fertile imagination. It developed rather quickly into a make-believe landscape composed of elements drawn from reality, enveloping the central theme of a lone woman. Consequently, such an image as The Canyon stands forever, unique and strong blending into a fantasy world never witnessed before, yet familiar and infinitely desirable to view.
Over his twenty-year period with the House of Art, Parrish created his best known and most popular art works. The Canyon was released as an art print in 1924 to resounding success, it was offered in two sizes-10 by 6 inches or 15 by 12 inches.
After its success, he completed so-called 'girl on rock' themed paintings. In fact, for many years thereafter, he became well known for taking this prototypicals theme constructed for the first time in The Canyon, reworking it into successful variations and changing environmental settings and models. Canyon is arguably the most successful on all accounts.
Maxfield Parrish was the greatest illustrator of the first half of the 20th century. In a survey taken by Time magazine, Parrish was listed as one of the three most popular artists in the world along with Van Gogh and Cezanne. By the end of the 'Roaring Twenties', his popularity was so great that one out of four households had a Maxfield Parrish art print. His sensuous figures and lush dreamscapes created a wondrous and fantastical world enjoyed by all ages. Graceful maidens in classical gossamer gowns, rarified villas in the background or idealized environments stirred the imaginations of his vast audience making 'Maxfield Parrish' a household name.
From the 1890's onward, Parrish took America's suppressed imagination out of Victorian doldrums into a whole new era with an everlasting impact. The public eagerly embraced Parrish's uniquely crafted images from his very first published work, an 1895 Easter cover for Harper's Weekly until 1963, with his last Brown and Bigelow calendar entitled 'Peaceful Country.' He passed away at 95 years of age in 1966 at his home, The Oaks in Plainfield, New Hampshire.
Yet his most desired works remain his famous 'girl on rock' in neoclassical gowns with tight sashes. He placed unguarded women inappropriately dressed into rugged terrain, natural environments. Delicate, fragile, feminine beauty amongst sharp rock outcroppings counterbalanced by jagged mountains, cascading waters and reflecting pools-Mother Nature and civility in highly defined detail. His paintings utilized a unique juxtaposition of designed elements, luminescent colors, photorealistic subjects and romantic images which combined to captivate his viewers. The natural background was conjured up by his fertile imagination, although some portions were real places, none were ever totally real and most were totally imagined. His notorious work Daybreak and its superb successor, The Canyon, have become emblematic of the 1920's and of Maxfield Parrish.
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