Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)
Autumn Brook
signed and dated 'Maxfield Parrish/1948' (lower left)--signed and dated again and inscribed with title (on the reverse)
oil on board
23½ x 18 in. (59.7 x 45.7 cm.)
The artist.
Estate of the above.
[With]Vose Galleries, Boston, Massachusetts, 1968.
[With]La Galeria, San Mateo, California, 1974.
Acquired by the present owner, 1974.
A.M. Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish: The Masterworks, Berkeley, California, 1992, p. 168.
A.M. Gilbert, The Mechanic Who Loved to Paint: The Other Side of Maxfield Parrish, Burlingame, California, 1995, p. 70.
A.M. Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish: The Landscapes, Berekley, California, 1998, pp. 100-01, illustrated.
A.G. Smith, Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe, exhibition catalogue, London, 2005, pp. 106, 133, no. 36, illustrated.
Boston, Massachusetts, Vose Galleries, 1968.
San Mateo, California, La Galeria, 1974.
Plainfield, New Hampshire, Maxfield Parrish Musuem, June 1979.
Burlingame, California, Alma Gilbert Gallery, January-December 1992.
Windsor, Vermont, Cornish Colony Gallery and Museum, June 2-October 1998.
Windsor, Vermont, Cornish Colony Gallery and Museum, May 28-October 2000.
Reno, Nevada, Nevada Museum of Art, and elsewhere, Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe, May 1-June 26, 2005.
Windsor, Vermont, Cornish Colony Museum, May 28-October 2008.

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Lot Essay

While celebrated for his illustrative works, Maxfield Parrish's true passion lies in his later landscapes. Like his father, Stephen Parrish, Maxfield began to focus on landscape painting after he had achieved commercial success and financial security. The triumph of his "Magnum Opus," Daybreak (1926, private collection) was in large part responsible for this new found artistic freedom. In his landscapes, such as Autumn Brook, Parrish uses the same technique and colors as in his previous works to capture peaceful, bucolic scenes. His masterful handling of paint and keen understanding of color are at their apex in the present work as he transforms a bubbling brook, imbuing it with a sense of magic and wonder.

Two trips early in Parrish's career would have a lasting impact on his landscape painting. An excursion to the Southwest in the early 1900s introduced the young artist to the majestic mountains, which were the origin of the idealized terrains, that became the signature of his later works, including Autumn Brook. His experience in the Southwest was followed by another influential tour, this time to Italy, where he found a subtle light and coloring that served as a balance to the dramatic topography and atmosphere of the Southwest and can be seen in the soft glow of dawn in Autumn Brook. The lasting impression of these trips is evident in the way that he viewed and depicted the landscape that surrounded his home, "The Oaks" in Plainfield, New Hampshire.

Parrish preferred to work in his studio rather than paint en plein air, seeking to imbue his pictures with an ethereal sense of wonder, rather than a purely factual recording of a place. His time consuming glazing technique made painting from nature virtually impossible as light would shift before he could capture it. He often used clever methods of reproducing grand components in his studio, for mountainous landscapes or rocky shores such as the one in Autumn Brook he used broken quartz rocks placed on a mirror. He created the effect of natural light and shadows through artificial methods, shining lamps on props. Once Parrish determined exactly how he wanted to lay out his painting he would outline the composition using either a photo projection or cut-outs applied to the surface. He usually completed the landscape first and then used a stencil of the silhouette to impose any architectural structures on top. This exacting method allowed Parrish to experiment with a variety of elements, establish a definitive layout for his composition and remove the chance of error and natural variance. This control let him to focus on color rather than composition when he began to paint.

The success of Autumn Brook is, in large part, due to Parrish's laborious glazing technique. Inspired by the Old Master painters, Parrish began with a white ground and subsequently layered pure pigment and varnish repeatedly to achieve a brilliant incandescence and the effects of light and shadow. The intense blue of the sky radiating out from behind the trees in the present work was lauded and known as "Parrish Blue" amongst his colleagues. Parrish's glazing technique imbues Autumn Brook not only with rich bold colors, but also with soft variegated light and a sense of wonder. His seamless presentation masterfully captures both the gentle and dramatic effects of the sun as it filters through the canopy of trees and dances on the brook and its banks, creating patterns of light and shadow. In Autumn Brook Parrish exploits his technical mastery to imbue a common scene with a sense of wonder. His ability to create a romanticized panorama of mystical beauty from the everyday things around him is at its peak in the masterwork of visual escapism.

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