Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)
Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)

Study for River Ascutney

Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)
Study for River Ascutney
oil on board
10¾ x 10½ in. (27.3 x 26.7 cm.)
Painted circa 1942.
The artist.
John MacAuley, Windsor, Vermont, gift from the above, 1966.
Patty Koff, Villanova, Pennsylvania, by descent from the above.
Alma Gilbert, Plainfield, New Hampshire.
A. Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish: The Landscapes, Berkeley, California, 1998, p. 85, illustrated.
A. Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish: The Masterworks, Berkeley, California, 2002, p. 249, illustrated.
A.G. Smith, Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe, exhibition catalogue, London, 2005, pp. 103, 134, no. 68, illustrated.
Cornish Colony Museum, Coming Home: A Retrospective Exhibit of Parrish, Manship, Faulkner and Zorach, exhibition catalogue, p. 9, illustrated.
Plainfield, New Hampshire, Maxfield Parrish Museum, 1982-83.
San Francisco, California, Maxwell Gallery, 1984.
San Francisco, California, La Galeria, 1984-85.
Palm Beach, Florida, The Society for the Four Arts, and elsewhere, Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe, January 21-February 20, 2005, no. 68.
Windsor, Vermont, Cornish Colony Museum, Coming Home: A Retrospective Exhibit of Parrish, Manship, Faulkner and Zorach, May-October 2006.

Lot Essay

At the age of sixty, with considerable fame and praise, Maxfield Parrish turned to landscape painting, beginning a new phase of his career with the enthusiasm and energy of a young artist. Although Parrish experimented with landscapes throughout the preceding years and incorporated elements into many of his commercial works, it was not until 1930 that he turned exclusively to the subject. Study for River Ascutney, is characteristic of the artist's finest landscapes, possessing many of the celebrated hallmarks of Parrish's style.

Parrish began experimenting with landscape painting in the 1890s, painting and sketching around Cape Ann, Massachusetts and introducing landscape elements into his magazine and book illustrations. The turn of the century brought two consecutive commissions from Century Magazine which had a profound effect on his landscape painting. During the winters of 1901 to 1902 and 1902 to 1903, Parrish traveled to and around Arizona to produce a series of paintings for Ray Stannard Baker's article "The Great Southwest." Parrish was immediately fascinated by the area's dramatic lighting and brilliant range of color, both of which created impressive effects against the unusual terrain. As Coy Ludwig points out, "the dramatic effects of the southwestern sunrises and sunsets, with their reflections of brilliant orange hues and shadows of purple and blue, and the craggy terrain of the canyons became forever a part of Parrish's artistic vocabulary." (Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1973, p. 171) The artist's experience in the Southwest was followed by another influential excursion, this time to Italy where he spent three months gathering material to illustrate Edith Wharton's Italian Villas and Their Gardens. The subtle light and coloring Parrish found in Italy served as a balance to the dramatic topography and atmosphere of the Southwest.

In 1898, before setting out on either of these journeys, Parrish had built a house and studio in the thriving artist's colony of Cornish, New Hampshire. Established in 1885 by the prominent American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the Cornish colony grew into a lively and productive world of artists, authors, playwrights and architects. Parrish lived and worked in this southwestern region of New Hampshire for the remainder of his life, and, naturally, his immediate surroundings became the basis for his landscapes. As in Study for River Ascutney, he dramatized the local environs with the vivid hues and subdued light of his previous travels. In the present work, he depicts a segment of the Connecticut River near his home in Plainfield, New Hampshire at sunset. He dramatizes the scene with blazing oranges contrasting with the darkened landscape.

The magic and spirit of boundless possibility embodied in Study for River Ascutney is the result of an intricate approach to painting that was unique to Parrish. He possessed a calm and patient disposition that was perfectly suited to the arduous and time-consuming work his pictures demanded. This approach included the use of paper cut-outs, photography, props and models constructed in his workshop as well as a tedious method of painting with glazes. Every detail in his paintings was manipulated so as to create an effective design.

Central to Study for River Ascutney's beauty is Parrish's meticulous and time-consuming process of painting with glazes. Influenced by the Old Master painters, this was a slow, meticulous process that resulted in magnificent luminosity and intensity of color. Parrish began with a white base which served to light the canvas from the first layer up through the last. Then, using a stipple brush, he applied paint directly from the tube as he felt strongly about the purity of color and the resulting effect it made on the picture as a whole. Parrish expressed his aims concerning color, "Probably that which has a greater hold on me than any other quality is color. I feel it is a language but little understood; much less so than it used to be. To be a great colorist that is my modest ambition. I hope someday to express the child's attitude towards nature and things; for that is the purest and most unconscious." (Maxfield Parrish Papers, Hanover, New Hampshire) Parrish subsequently layered pure pigment and varnish over and over to achieve a heightened vibrancy of colors resulting in a smooth, richly luminous surface. Study for River at Ascutney's enamel-like saturation is a trademark of Parrish's work.

Study for River Ascutney possesses several quintessential features of Parrish's landscape style. In characteristic fashion, Parrish arranged the composition with a clear and natural flow of horizontal bands punctuated by landscape elements. This imbues the work with a peaceful rhythm. The river in the present work acts as a mirror, adding symmetry and beauty of design to the brilliantly colored composition.

Parrish explains his approach to landscape painting which comes to fruition in Study for River Ascutney, "You mention 'realism': that I think, is a term which has to be defined: realism should never be the end in view. My theory is that you should use all the objects in nature, trees, hills, skies, rivers and all, just as stage properties on which to hang your idea, the end in view, the elusive qualities of the day, in fact all the qualities that give a body the delights of out of doors. You can not 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 much better. That's the trouble with so much art today, it is factual, and stop right there." (Maxfield Parrish, p. 185)

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