Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe

by Alma M. Gilbert



2. Parrish and Photography


The early use of photography by artists is indicated by two photographic prints of early glass plate negatives in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum archives in Los Angeles, California. These prints speak eloquently of the importance that photography had for artists as far back as the mid-nineteenth century. The first one, Oscar Gustave Rejlander's The Infant Photography Giving the Painter an Additional Brush (c. 1856), shows the interaction between painting and photography by allegorically illustrating how artists could use the camera to shorten the time between perception of a scene and the subsequent recording of it with enormous detail in a painting.[21]

Another example, and perhaps most important to Parrish in particular, is a Thomas Eakins photo, Eakins' Students at the site for the "Swimming Hole" (c. 1883). Eakins was among the first to experiment with photographing nudes, both male and female, to use as subjects for his paintings. His models were students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which censored him and eventually dismissed him for the practice of using students as nude models. Eakins' painting of the Swimming Hole was created from sketches based on these photographs. According to the Getty catalogue, it is probably the most famous nineteenth -century painting known to have been based on a photograph.[22]

Eakins pioneered photographic methods by inventing a single camera to replace several. When he was dismissed by the Pennsylvania Academy in 1886, many of his male students left with him and together they established the Philadelphia Art Students' League, where Eakins taught without pay for about seven years.

Parrish entered the Pennsylvania Academy six years after Eakins left and was most intrigued by the usage of photography that Eakins had pioneered. Photography became a very important tool for him and he developed a passion for the usage of a camera. The intricacy and time-consuming methods Parrish employed prevented him painting from nature. He was a consummate draftsman with a steady hand and an infallible eye. His talent allowed him to draw a figure with the accuracy of a photograph, so he insisted on using the camera as a tool, but never as a crutch for his art. His studio at The Oaks included a darkroom where he developed his film, which he printed in four- by five-inch glass slides. He could project these with a magic lantern and move an image around in his composition until it suited him and he could begin the work of drawing and composing from scratch. Projecting the image against a wall or a board allowed the artist to make composition decisions on the spot.[23]

Parrish would use his excellent photographic skills to photograph a painting he would be working on and blow it up. He would then paint it with quick-drying oils or watercolors and send it to a prospective lithographer to alert him as to what colors needed revision, or to a prospective client for approval prior to delivering a work. It is interesting to note that Maxfield Parrish Jr., the artist's second son and the executor of his estate, was a talented engineer in his own right who contributed to the invention of the first self-developing instant camera in 1947 for Dr. Edwin H. Land's Polaroid Corporation. Max Jr. described for Coy Ludwig his father's use of cameras:

Sometime not long after 1900 he used a rather crude cheap Bausch and Lomb "magic lantern" to project photographs or parts of them onto paper, and in a darkened room traced around the image with a pencil. Using this technique, he was able to complete in a relatively short period of time the ordinarily time-consuming preliminary drawings for such paintings as The Pied Piper, which contained over two dozen actual portraits of children from the Cornish and Plainfield neighborhood.[24]

Coy Ludwig compiled and catalogued a list of approximately 1,102 Parrish glass photographic slides in the collection of Dartmouth College. Included in the collection of photos is a large body of work in which Parrish documented the growth of something very dear to his heart: his fabled home, The Oaks. Images of his gardens show not only the pride of ownership the artist had for the home he had built, but also pride for the gardens his wife Lydia had helped create around them. Here, the artist used photography both to document and prepare his work, and to record the love of place for a home that his architectural bent had helped create.



Go to:

Parrish and Photography - page 1 / 2 / 3 (this is page 1)

Go back to the Index of Essay Sections


Visit the Table of Contents for Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2005 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.