1870 - 1966
initialed M.P. and dated 17 (lower right); also signed Maxfield Parrish and dated April of 1917 (on the reverse)
oil and collage on paper laid down on board by the artist
30 ½ by 34 inches
(77.5 by 86.4 cm)
Olivier de Barge (sold: Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., New York, April 21, 1977, lot 118)
Private collection (acquired at the above sale; sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 27, 1999, lot 169)
Acquired by the present owner at the above sale
San Mateo, California, La Galeria, Maxfield Parrish, 1976, no. 3, n.p., cover illustration
Coy Ludwig, Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1973, no. 632, pp. 134, 138, 213, 215, illustrated fig. 89, p. 130
Paul W. Skeeters, Maxfield Parrish: The Early Years 1893-1930, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1973, illustrated pp. 50-51
Alma M. Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish: The Masterworks, Berkeley, California, 1992, pp. 150-51, illustrated fig. 7.2, p. 148
Alma M. Gilbert, The Mechanic Who Loved to Paint: The Other Side of Maxfield Parrish, Burlingame, California, 1995, no. 42, p. 95, illustrated p. 53
Sylvia Yount, Maxfield Parrish 1870-1966, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1999, p. 81
Laurence S. Cutler, Judy Goffman Cutler, and the National Museum of American Illustration, Maxfield Parrish and the American Imagists, Edison, New Jersey, 2004, p. 229, illustrated p. 250
Alma M. Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe, London, 2005, pp. 76, 87
The candy manufacturer Clarence A. Crane commissioned Maxfield Parrish to create the present work as a decoration for the cover of the 1917 Christmas gift box of Crane's Chocolates. Mr. Crane suggested Cleopatra as the subject for the painting as he had been delighted with Parrish's scene from the Persian poet Omar Khayyam's collection of quatrains The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám that he painted for the previous year's edition of the gift box. Parrish was pleased with this choice of subject and wrote to Mr. Crane, "Cleopatra is welcome here, or any lady of history of undoubted charm...Of course there are no end of subjects. All I care about is something that can hold color and be made effective" (as quoted in Coy Ludwig, Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1973, p. 134).
In preparation for this important commission, Parrish asked his best friend, neighbor, and confidante, the American writer Winston Churchill (1871-1941) if his wife, Mabel Harlakenden Churchill, would pose as Cleopatra. Parrish's wife, Lydia, made the request and Mabel agreed to model for the painting. Ultimately, the three candy boxes that Parrish produced for Crane (Rubaiyat, Garden of Allah, and Cleopatra) were extremely successful for both Crane's Choclates and for Parrish. The enjoyable and mutually beneficial partnership marked a definite turning point in the illustrator's career—Parrish vowed to only accept commissions, like the present one, which interested him artistically.
According to Coy Ludwig, "Cleopatra arrived in Cleveland on April 16, 1917, to an enthusiastic reception. The unusual design, with subjects in costumes reminiscent of silent-film exotica, combined several bare-chested oarsmen, a female attendant, and Cleopatra in a loose robe reclining on a bed of roses in a frame of frozen moonlight. The lapis lazuli blue water and the typical Parrish blue starlit sky were separated at the horizon by white mountains. Polka-dotted and checkered fabrics, used as the lap robes of the oarsmen and the headdress of the standing figure, were a favorite motif of the artist" (Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1973, p. 134).
In addition to the sales of his boxes of chocolates, Mr. Crane created art prints from Parrish's paintings that could be ordered through a form enclosed in the gift boxes. Coy Ludwig writes, "Crane regarded the art prints as a means of building prestige for his firm and a moderately profitable service he might provide for his clients who wanted replicas of the candy-box illustrations suitable for framing...The demand for reproductions of Parrish's decorations grew so great that Crane arranged for the House of Art, the New York fine arts publishing and distributing firm, to handle the marketing of the prints...Crane's reproductions helped to create an unprecedented public demand for Parrish's paintings in the art-print market and with it the assurance of continued financial security for the artist" (Ibid., pp. 135, 138).