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    Sale 1665

    Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture

    25 May 2006, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 32

    Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)

    The Lantern Bearers

    Price Realised  

    Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)
    The Lantern Bearers
    signed and dated 'Maxfield Parrish 1908.' (lower left)
    oil on canvas laid down on board
    40 x 32 in. (101.6 x 81.3 cm.)


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    Originally painted as the frontispiece for Collier's Magazine's December 10, 1910 issue, Maxfield Parrish's The Lantern Bearers is a tour de force of luminosity and a prime example of the artist's work from this period. Widely regarded as one of the most popular American illustrators, Parrish received his first magazine commission in 1895 for Harper's Bazaar's Easter cover. This was the start of a blazing career working for publications such as Life, Ladies' Home Journal, Harper's Weekly and Scribner's. "From every newsstand his work would be instantly recognized, sometimes gracing different publications alongside each other." (A. Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish: The Masterworks, Berkeley, California, 1992, p. 63)

    In 1904 Parrish signed an exclusive contract with Collier's stating that his future work would be published solely in the publication until 1910. Parrish received $1,250 a month and retained all the original paintings. Collier's pages were larger than most periodicals of the time giving Parrish more creative freedom. Additionally, the ability to work within a consistent style and format for six years allowed the artist greater opportunity for exploration and experimentation. Painted in 1908, near the end of this exclusive agreement, The Lantern Bearers exemplifies Parrish's artistic growth during this period. When compared to Three Wise Men of 1904, also a multi-figural twilight composition, the artitst's advances in compositional complexity and detail are evident. "It was generally felt that his magazine work had exposed a side of his talent which had not been evident in his earlier, more commercial graphic periodical covers and poster designs. His work had become more delicate and...elegant." (L.S. Cutler, J.G. Cutler, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, Rohnert Park, California, 1995, p. 7)

    The fanciful subject matter of The Lantern Bearers is typical of Parrish's work early in the twentieth century and demonstrates the influence of acclaimed illustrator Howard Pyle, under whom Parrish studied at Drexel Arts Institute in Philadelphia. "He emphasized to Parrish the importance of historical accuracy and the need for models to wear authentic costumes if at all possible, for the audience wished to transport themselves into the image and fantasize as to its meaning." (L.S. Cutler, J.G. Cutler, Maxfield Parrish and the American Imagists, Edison, New Jersey, 2004, p. 74) Parrish became aware of the commercial appeal of historical scenes and adapted the practice of working from the costumed model.

    Instead of spending hours drawing from the actual model, Parrish instead took photographs, a form of artistic shorthand, and worked from them. Susan Lewin, his favorite and most often used model, posed as one of the pierrots in The Lantern Bearers (fig. 1). The seated figure in the lower left of the composition is an almost exact representation of the photograph. Parrish began using photography at the encouragement of Thomas Anshutz, one of his instructors at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1892 to 1894 and it became an integral component of his creative process throughout his career.

    Anshutz also influenced Parrish to employ pure color in his works as exemplified by the bold blues and yellows of The Lantern Bearers. Parrish's masterful handling of paint and his keen understanding of color are at their apex in this painting. As in all his masterworks, Parrish employs the time consuming glazing technique inspired by the Old Master painters. Beginning with a white ground he subsequently layered pure pigment and varnish repeatedly to achieve the brilliant incandescence of the glowing lanterns illuminating into the cloak of the midnight blue sky. Parrish employed the theme of lanterns illuminating a darkened space again in A Venetian Night's Entertainment (1923, Private collection), a scene depicting a crowded dimly lit restaurant.

    Parrish was particularly interested in the effect light has upon nature as well as the human figure. In The Lantern Bearers he explores this by using both back and front lit elements. The shaded figures of the pierrots--a popular subject for Parrish in the early 1900s that also appears in Pierrot (1908 Louis Sanchez, San Mateo, California) and the Florentine Fete panel A Stairway to Summer (1912, John W. Merriam, Philadelphia)--and the large tree act as foils for the lanterns, further increasing their brilliance and ensuring maximum visual impact. Parrish also uses the overlapping forms of the lanterns, tree and human figures to create a sense of depth, compositional complexity and syncopation. The interaction of the figures introduces a sense of cohesive motion. The pierrot on the far right gazes up at the figure in the upper left corner further unifying the composition and enhancing the sense of diagonal movement in the work. The leaves in front of the lanterns in the upper right quadrant add a pattern element that is continued in the pierrots' costumes further integrating the work. The clean, powerful lines and architectural element in the foreground are common to Parrish's work as is the trademark "Parrish Blue" sky.

    Scholar Coy Ludwig lauds the compositional sophistication of the work, "Clowns or Pierrots, a favorite subject of the popular arts during the early part of the century, were frequently included in Parrish's paintings. None of his Pierrot compositions is more striking, however, than The Lantern Bearers, The arrangement of the yellow lanterns, in front of, amid and behind the Pierrots, in a strong ascending diagonal offset by a single sphere on the right, gives an interesting compositional structure to the skillfully executed, arresting painting." (Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1973, p. 85)

    Professor Hubert von Herkomer summarized Parrish's success during the early 1900s, "Mr. Parrish has absorbed, yet purified, every modern oddity, and added to it his own strong original identity. He has combined the photographic vision with the pre-Raphaelite feeling. He is poetic without ever being maudlin, and has the saving clause of humor. He can give good suggestiveness without loss of unflinching detail. He has a strong sense of romance. He has a great sense of characterization without a touch of ugliness. He can be modern, medieval, or classic. He has been able to infuse into the most uncompromising realism the decorative element-an extraordinary feat in itself. He is throughout an excellent draughtsman, and his finish is phenomenal...He will do much to reconcile the extreme and sober elements of our times." (as quoted in L.L. Watkins, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospect, 1966, n.p) The Lantern Bearers is a marvel of technical mastery and luminous whimsy.

    Provenance

    Betsey P.C. Purves Trust.
    Vose Galleries, Inc, Boston, Massachusetts.
    Private collection.
    Vose Galleries, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts, circa early 1980s.
    (With) Alma Gilbert, circa early 1980s.
    Private collection, Europe, acquired from the above.


    Pre-Lot Text

    PROPERTY OF A EUROPEAN COLLECTION


    Literature

    The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospect, exhibition catalogue, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1966, no. 9, illustrated.
    Vose Galleries of Boston, Inc., The Return of Maxfield Parrish: 1870-1966, exhibition catalogue, Boston, Massachusetts, 1967, no. 2.
    C. Ludwig, Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1973, pp. 85, 91, pl. 22, illustrated.
    Vose Galleries of Boston, Inc., An Exhibition of Original Paintings and Drawings by Maxfield Parrish: 1870-1966, exhibition catalogue, Boston, Massachusetts, 1977, no. 1, illustrated.
    C.L.B. Danikian, "Maxfield Parrish at the Vose," The Christian Science Monitor, September 27, 1977, p. 10, illustrated.
    A. Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish: The Masterworks, Berkeley, California, 1992, pp. 44-5, fig. 2.26, illustrated.
    L.S. Cutler, J. Goffman, Maxfield Parrish, London, England, 1993, p. 38, illustrated.
    J.G. Cutler, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Tokyo, Japan, 1995, pp. 103, 165, 180, no. 50, illustrated.
    L.S. Cutler, J.G. Cutler, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, Rohnert Park, California, 1995, p. 77, illustrated.
    A.M. Gilbert, Parrish and Photography, Plainfield, New Hampshire, 1998, p. 28, no. 51, illustrated.
    L.S. Cutler, J.G. Cutler, Maxfield Parrish and the American Imagists, Edison, New Jersey, 2004, p. 146, illustrated.


    Exhibited

    Springfield, Massachusetts, The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospect, January 23-March 20, 1966, no. 9.
    Boston, Massachusetts, Vose Galleries of Boston, Inc., The Return of Maxfield Parrish: 1870-1966, 1967, no. 2.
    Boston, Massachusetts, Vose Galleries of Boston, Inc., An Exhibition of Original Paintings and Drawings by Maxfield Parrish: 1870-1966, September-October 1977, no. 1.
    Tokyo, Japan, Isetan Museum of Art, and elsewhere, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, April 20-May 16, 1995, no. 50.
    Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Maxfield Parrish, November 11-December 31, 1995.