DescriptionMaxfield Parrish (American, 1870-1966)
Jason and His Teacher, Collier's magazine frontispiece and A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales interior illustration, 1909
Oil on canvas laid on board
40 x 32 inches (101.6 x 81.3 cm)
Estate of the above;
John Hanson, California;
Vose Galleries, Boston, Massachusetts;
Alma Gilbert, La Galeria, San Mateo, California, acquired from the above, 1974;
Gary F. Atherton, Atherton, California, acquired from the above, 1974;
American Illustrators Gallery, New York;
Acquired by the present owner from the above, circa 1985.
La Galeria, San Mateo, California, 1974;
Maxfield Parrish Museum, Plainfield, New Hampshire, Opening Exhibit, 1978;
Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo, "Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective," April 20-May 16,1995;
The Museum of Art, Kintetu, Japan, "Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective," May 26-June 7, 1995;
Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art, Kofu, Japan, "Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective," August 12-September 10, 1995;
Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, "Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective," November 11-December 31,1995;
National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, Rhode Island, July 6-September 30, 2006.
N. Hawthorne, A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales (originally 1851 and 1853), New York, 1910, across from p. 322, illustrated;
C. Ludwig, Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1973, p. 41, pl. 5, illustrated;
A. Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish, The Masterworks, Berkley, California, 1992, p. 42, illustrated;
J. Cutler and L. Cutler, Maxfield Parrish, London, 1993, p. 36;
J. Cutler and L. Cutler, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, San Francisco, California, 1995, p. 71;
M. Goldberg, Maxfield Parrish: The Art Prints, Portland, Oregon, 1998, p. 47, illustrated;
L. Cutler, J. Cutler, and the National Museum of American Illustration, Maxfield Parrish and the American Imagists, Easton, New Jersey, 2007, p. 209, illustrated.
When Maxfield Parrish painted the magnificent Jason and His Teacher in 1909, he had already established himself as America's leading magazine and book illustrator. His turn-of-the-century covers and interior artwork for Century, Collier's, Harper's Bazaar, Ladies' Home Journal, Life, and Scribner's Magazine were instantly recognizable and highly desirous; no other illustrator could match Parrish's winning combination of precise draftsmanship, atmospheric settings, blue-and-gold palette, dreamy characters, and strong graphic design. By this time, Parrish had also illustrated four major children's books, L. Frank Baum's Mother Goose in Prose (1897), Kenneth Grahame's The Golden Age (1899) and its sequel, Dream Days (1900), and Eugene Field's Poems of Childhood (1904). Fanciful and at times haunting, these illustrations share the themes of children entering magical worlds, battling various creatures, and emerging victorious.
Aware of the wild popularity of Parrish's fairy-tale publications and magazine work, Collier's in 1904 made him an irresistible offer: in exchange for signing an exclusive six-year contract, Parrish would receive the staggering salary of $1250 per month and retain ownership rights of any artwork created for the magazine. Under his tenure with Collier's, Parrish realized some of his most imaginative and cohesive illustrations, as he could develop recurring themes. His first successful Collier's series, The Arabian Nights (1906-7), attracting children and adults alike, prompted a second series, Greek Mythology (1908-10), which culminated in the present lot, Jason and His Teacher.
A tour de force of technique and design, the eight-part Greek Mythology enabled Parrish to explore a variety of heroism, adventure, and longing-; landscape formats--earth-toned woodlands, boldly colored mountainscape, and monochromatic seascapes; and his signature tropes--classical architecture and drapery-clad, idealized figures."Circe's Palace, depicting his favorite model, Susan Lewin, in the guise of a sorceress concocting potions over a silver cauldron in the middle of an open-air rotunda, was the first to appear, as the frontispiece in Collier's January 25, 1908 edition. Seven other frontispiece illustrations followed: Atlas Holding Up the Sky (May 16, 1908), with a ruddy giant powerfully rising from a shoreline and supporting weighty clouds on his shoulders; Cadmus Sowing the Dragon's Teeth (October 31, 1908), monumentalizing a bold youth striding across a storm-swept landscape onto which he casts the seeds of a fiendish army; Bellerophon by the Fountain of Pirene (May 15, 1909), imaging mighty Bellerophon as a tiny nude seated on a rocky outcrop before a precipitous mountainside, as he awaits the arrival of winged Pegasus; Pandora (October 16 1909), again with model Susan Lewin, here wearing a Greek gown and seated beside a mysterious wooden chest before a circular "window onto the world"; Quest of the Golden Fleece (March 5, 1910), spotlighting the fearless Argonauts' ship, as it moves from deep blue water into the hazy unknown; Proserpina (April 23, 1910), a misty white oceanscape with Ceres' beautiful daughter leaning upon a rock as she tries to befriend three nude sea nymphs; and Jason and His Teacher (July 23, 1910), the masterpiece of the series, foregrounding the Centaur Chiron on a rocky hillside as he instructs Jason and another pupil in the art of archery.
In 1910 the publisher Duffield & Company purchased the Greek Mythology series from Collier's in order to illustrate a new edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales. Hawthorne had originally published A Wonder Book in 1851, followed by its sequel, Tanglewood Tales, in 1853, as a modern recasting of Greek mythology for children. At the time, Hawthorne was living in a little red house on the so-called "Tanglewood" estate of William Aspinwall Tappan near Lenox, Massachusetts, and this secluded forested setting informed the framework of both books. Fictitious narrator Eustace Bright, a senior at Williams University, arrives at Tanglewood and encounters a passel of children, to whom he tells mythological stories while sitting on the front porch of the house. In the 1910 revised edition, Parrish's eight paintings from Greek Mythology accompanied chapters on "The Paradise of Children" (Pandora), "The Three Golden Apples" (Atlas Holding Up the Sky), "The Chimera" (Bellerophon by the Fountain of Pirene), "The Dragon's Teeth" (Cadmus Sowing the Dragon's Teeth), "Circe's Palace" (painting with the same title), "The Pomegranate Seeds" (Proserpina), and "The Golden Fleece" (Jason and His Teacher and The Argonauts in Quest of the Golden Fleece). Parrish also supplied for A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales two additional paintings which, omitted from Greek Mythology because of their dark coloration, had been purchased by the Philadelphia collector Austin Purves: Jason and the Talking Oak and The Fountain of Pirene.
Duffield & Company utilized Parrish's exquisite Jason and His Teacher as the opening illustration in "Jason and the Golden Fleece," the grand finale of A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales. This particular myth centers around the youthful hero Jason, son of the dethroned King of Iolchos, who, for protection, is sent away to live with in a cave with the sage centaur Chiron, the master teacher of warriors Hercules and Achilles. After learning the arts of letters and warfare from Chiron, Jason sets out to reclaim the throne from the new king, Pelias; in order to do so, he must bring the king the prized "Golden Fleece" from a ram, fiercely guarded by fiery bulls and a dragon on the Island of Colchis. After heeding advice from the Talking Oak, Jason organizes a group of warriors, the Argonauts, who sail around the Greek Isles on various adventures in quest of the Golden Fleece. In Jason and His Teacher, Parrish emphasizes Chiron's authority and prowess, as he towers above Jason and another student while instructing them how to use a bow and arrow:
"This learned person was one of the people, or quadrupeds, called Centaurs. He lived in a cavern, and had the body and legs of a white horse, with the head and shoulders of a man. His name was Chiron; and in spite of his odd appearance, he was a very excellent teacher, and had several scholars, who afterwards did him credit by making a great figure in the world. . . . The good Chiron taught his pupils how to play upon the harp, and how to cure diseases, and how to use the sword and shield, together with various other branches of education, in which the lads of those days used to be instructed, instead of writing and arithmetic" (N. Hawthorne, A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales, New York, 1910, p. 322).
The most complex illustration in the book, Jason and His Teacher is a brilliant study in stylistic contrasts. Employing his unique process of layering numerous alternating coats of glazes and varnishes, Parrish achieves his characteristic rich coloration, here balancing earth tones -- the velvety brown of the cave-mountain -- with brighter primary colors applied straight from the paint tube -- the indigo sky, blood-red drapery, and golden light upon the background slopes. In addition, Parrish offsets the strong geometric foundation of the composition -- the triangular mountain range and sky and the triangular positioning of Chiron with his pupils - with the intricately curving lines of the figures' billowing drapery. Textures also serve opposite roles, where crumbling rocks, pleated drapery, and stippled sunspots -- achieved by blotting the wet glaze with coarse paper -- stand out in relief against a flattened blue background. Parrish's most dramatic "push-pull" is his use of chiaroscuro, where a spotlight shines on Chiron, the most important figure, throwing the surrounding ground and sky into shadow.
Indeed, Parrish's paintings for Greek Mythology, as well as for its serial predecessor in Collier's, The Arabian Nights, introduced a number of unique stylistic trends that would appear in his later illustrations: strong chiaroscuro, where certain landscape elements are plunged into shadow, while others are lit by orange-yellow sun rays; figures wrapped in wildly undulating drapery that almost assumes a personality of its own; and figures either monumentalized or diminished in relation to their setting, such as giants hovering over the land or tiny nudes nestled within expansive landscapes. For example, his 1923 Jack and the Beanstalk features chiaroscuro, with a gilded and textured mountainscape similar to the one in Jason and His Teacher, and his 1920 Prometheus illustration for Edison Mazda Lamps revisits the theme of the larger-than-life mythological hero bounding across the earth, with his drapery unfurling. An instant hit with audiences in 1908-10, Parrish's illustrations for Collier's Greek Mythology and Duffield's A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales continue to amaze today, as they demonstrate technical ingenuity and hint at the darkness lurking beneath idealized beauty. This incredible and powerful painting, Jason and his Teacher, stands alone as a strong representation of Maxfield Parrish's mastery.
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