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    MAXFIELD PARRISH (American, 1870-1966)
    At Close of Day, 1941
    Oil on board
    15 x 13 in.
    Signed and dated lower right

    Vose Galleries of Boston, Boston;
    Mr. Gerhard Willemy Keny, Columbus, Ohio, by 1974
    Private collection.

    Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, "Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe," 1 June -2 September 1974, no. 83 as Village Street, Winter" (label verso);
    Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, "Visions of Winter," 14 January-11 March1984 (label verso);
    Cornish Colony Museum, Windsor, Vermont, 28 May-28 October 2004 and 7 July-29 October 2006 (label verso);
    Trust for Museum Exhibitions, Washington, D.C., "Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe," 2005 (label verso).

    Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, "Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe," 1974, p. 87, no. 83;
    C. Ludwig, Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1974, p. 214, Parrish inventory no. 778;
    A. M. Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish Master of Make-Believe, Old Saybrook, Connecticut, 2005, pp. 6 (full-page color detail) and 108 (full-page ill.).

    Although Maxfield Parrish painted landscapes throughout his career, it was not until the 1930s, shortly after he turned 60, that he announced publicly that he was emancipating himself from the figure, and devoting himself instead to pure landscape painting. This shift away from what he had described to the Associated Press as his pictures of "girls on rocks" (wit tinged with a certain irritation perhaps), which had won him such celebrity and financial success, seems to have been prompted by a convergence of factors. Alma M. Gilbert, in her indispensable monograph, Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make Believe, cites a familial basis for this decision when she writes, "It is also evident that Parrish was acutely aware that his family, particularly his daughter Jean, whom he adored, described him as 'just an illustrator, not a real artist like my grandpa, Stephen Parrish.'" Coy Ludwig's suggestion is equally compelling but a little more oblique: that the relentless pressure of trying to repeat the overwhelming success of an art-print like Daybreak may have been something Parrish sought to avoid in a new venture (Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1974, p. 175).

    Certainly, as Parrish's many surviving remarks make clear, he had been seriously considering both the theoretical and practical challenges posed by pure landscape painting for some time. After all, he had been painting landscapes throughout his career as settings for the lucky, happy figures populating his magical worlds: mountains, trees, foliage, ornamental balustrades framing lakes, rocks, and his incomparably radiant aqua skies. His decision to explore pure landscape as a mature artist stemmed from the realization that landscape was the very best vehicle for transcending a literal transcription of a subject and expressing, instead, "the most important qualities" of a painting: "a sense of vastness, space, color and light." With the firm conviction of experience, Parrish claimed that it was virtually impossible to make a literal transcription of a landscape anyway. Things are always changing so one is always abstracting from nature, taking liberties with the shifting scene before one's eyes. Parrish advocated painting landscapes not en plein air as the Impressionists strove to do, but in the studio, in retrospect. His argument reads almost like an abstractionist's manifesto:

    "Just a faithful 'portrait' of a locality, factual, would never do. I feel sure all great landscape paintings were at least finished indoors, for there is no such thing as copying the more illusive [sic] qualities as light playing over the scene, the sense of air and space and color, distance and the great dome of the sky, for these things last but for a moment anyway."

    In 1936, at age 64, when most people start thinking about retiring, Parrish, as Coy Ludwig noted "was entering full speed into a new phase of his career" as a landscape painter. That year, an opportunity to become a full-time landscape painter presented itself to Parrish in the form of a commission from the Brown and Bigelow calendar and greeting card company. For 27 years, Parrish produced a series of landscape paintings which the St. Paul, Minnesota-based company published as art for their calendars. For the first five years of the arrangement (1936-1940), Brown and Bigelow published one Parrish landscape painting per year. Beginning in 1941, however, they engaged him to produce two landscapes annually because his calendars were selling so well. In addition to the larger summer catalogue for which he was already producing artwork, the company added a somewhat smaller-scale winter catalogue which required a winter landscape. As a result, Parrish produced 44 landscapes for the company over the span of the next 22 years-22 summer scenes and 22 winter scenes. Around the time he produced At Close of Day, Parrish decided to reduce the dimensions of his landscape supports to take into account the published proportions of the artwork in the calendars. Ever vigilant to the way his works might be cropped, he strategically planned his landscapes' proportions so that any cropping would be minimal, and any trimming would not destroy his careful calculations for achieving a design with dynamic symmetry. The 15 x 13 inch format of the present work was Parrish's most harmonious proportion for the winter compositions.

    This snowy scene of the Plainfield, New Hampshire Village Church at Dusk (Parrish's original title) is historically important within the artitist's mature career as a landscape painter because it is one of the earliest winter scenes he produced. He painted it in 1941, the initial year of Brown and Bigelow's winter catalogue venture, although it was not published until 1943 as that year's calendar (see Coy Ludwig, Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1974, p. 214, Parrish inventory no. 778). During the course of his arrangement with Brown and Bigelow, Parrish routinely submitted more than one landscape painting to the calendar selection committee to choose from annually. Sometimes they would determine that all of the submissions could be published, and designated the years in which they would appear. On other occasions, however, the landscapes were rejected for one reason or another. Parrish, the veteran illustrator and designer, recognized that his passionate concentration on the particular qualities of place occasionally became too involved and sometimes resulted in landscapes that lacked the more simplified scenic punch necessary for effective calendar art. According to Gilbert, Parrish created landscapes both for reproduction by Brown and Bigelow and for his own enjoyment: "There are fifty paintings that were at one time copyrighted by the . . . company as well as close to forty works that were unpublished" (Gilbert, 2005, p. 103).

    With its jewel-like saturation of color and elegant, rather spare design with a vanishing point right of center, this 1941 snow scene (which Brown and Bigelow renamed a more poetic At Close of Day) does not suffer from the lack of scenic punch or any passages of overwrought rendering. Gilbert opined that together with Parrish's 1949 Afterglow, his 1953 Swift Water, and his 1956 Dingleton Farm, this work is one of four "exemplary published landscape[s] that speak[s] to Parrish's love of his immediate surroundings" (Gilbert, 2005, p. 103).

    At Close of Day shows Maxfield Parrish's incomparable gift for evoking mood. Constructed from a palette of chromatic brilliance and from a calculated precision of space and line, this idyllic scene of a small town blanketed by snow, featuring a church steeple and little dwellings with tiny lights in the windows, somehow never devolves into something trite and saccharine. Parrish's masterful skills of observation (note the gentle curve of the earth along the low horizon line) and his knowledge that specificity creates interest raise this tranquil view of winter twilight into the realm of fine art. The naked tree in the foreground, whose spindly vulnerability would have attracted the eye of an Egon Schiele, stretches expressively into the zone of the sky, almost like a yearning embrace. This isn't just any tree. It is portrait-like in its careful profile and, one might argue, intensely anthropomorphic despite Parrish's claims that he had banished the figure. It was doubtless based upon something Parrish discovered in nature, then improved upon and modified to fit his expressive aims. A fascinating sidebar to this discussion of the tree is worthy of note: Parrish was required to produce his winter landscapes in the summertime, so he had to imagine what fading sunlight or even moonlight looked like on snow, which of course makes his color effects all the more remarkable. As Ludwig reminded Parrish enthusiasts, "Painting winter landscapes in the summer when there was no snow often presented much difficulty [for Parrish]. It is perhaps for this reason that in these winter scenes [the present work included], no matter how much snow is on the ground, there is rarely any on the trees" (Ludwig, 1974, p. 185).

    Ultimately, however, it is Maxfield Parrish's use of cobalt blue that is the protagonist of his landscape paintings. Ranging from rich purples and midnight blues, through tinted cobalts and aquas to nearly malachite greens, Parrish's saturated skies were so celebrated that that novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald coined the phrase "as blue as a Parrish sky" in one of his short stories. The sky in At the Close of Day is the landscape's primary feature, occupying over two-thirds of the picture plane. With its rainbow-pull of color from aqua all the way to green and eventual gold, Parrish the colorist presents a magical and boundless world that is illuminated by the vanishing glow of the setting sun. This effect was not easy for Parrish to achieve. To create it he devised a labor-intensive technique using a base of cobalt blue thinned slightly with linseed oil upon white underpainting, which he then glazed with a number of thin alternating coats of tinted oil and varnish because cobalt tends to be a bit harsh. The oil glazes were tinted with emerald green with traces of titanium white, Indian yellow and rose madder. The particular varnish resins he used, called Damar, are known to fluoresce a shade of yellow-green when exposed to ultraviolet light, imparting the unique turquoise hue to the painted sky.

    As Laurence S. Cutler and Judith Goffman Cutler noted in their 2007 study of Maxfield Parrish's legacy (Maxfield Parrish and the American Imagists, p. 265), with only few exceptions the artist kept his word and painted only landscapes from 1931 until 1961, at the age of 91 when he stopped painting altogether.

    More information about MAXFIELD PARRISH, also known as Parrish, Maxfield, Maxfield Parrish, Parrish, F. Maxfield, Parrish, Maxfield Frederick.

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    Auction Dates
    February, 2011
    11th-12th Friday-Saturday
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