White Birch was painted in 1929 in Windsor, Vermont at a time when Maxfield Parrish had decided to focus exclusively on landscape painting. He explained his decision to a news reporter at the time: "Magazines and art editors--and the critics too--are always hunting for something new, but they don't know what it is. They guess at what the public will like and, as we all do, they guess wrong about half the time. My present guess is that landscapes are coming in for magazine covers, advertisements and illustrations. Shut-in people need outlets for their imaginations. They need windows for their minds. Artists furnish them" (quoted in Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, San Francisco, California, 1995, p.15).
At the height of his popularity in America, Maxfield Parrish abandoned the figurative work that had made him a household name and devoted himself exclusively to landscape painting. Parrish became endlessly fascinated with capturing the magical colors of different seasons and the times of day. Dusk, dawn, fall, winter, Parrish painted them all convincingly, with a realist's precise eye for nature's subtleties. Coy Ludwig writes: "the sense of freedom, pure air and light, the magic of distance, and the saturated beauty of color, must be convincingly stated and take the beholder to the very spot" (Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1973, p.175).
In White Birch a farmer working in his field passes two large white birch trees. The raking morning light illuminates both the enormous trees and the brilliant blue sky, leaving the farmer in shadow, appearing small and inconsequential to the landscape. It is springtime, the leaves of the trees are just beginning to bud and the dry ground is sprouting new grass. The birch trees, which fill almost the entire right half of the composition, dominate the landscape pushing through the top of the picture plane leaving the toiling farmer below them far behind.
"When asked about 'realism' in his landscapes, Parrish replied: 'My theory is that you should use all objects in nature, trees, hills, skies, rivers and all, just as stage properties...on which to hang your idea...you cannot sit down and paint such things; they are not there or do not last but for a moment. Realism of impression, the mood of the moment, yes, but not the realism of things. The colored photograph can do that better' " (Laurence S. Cutler and Judy Goffman Cutler, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, San Francisco, California, 1995, p.15).
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