Maxfield Parrish. Part 4.

                                                           Daybreak, by Maxfield Parrish (1922)

Maxfield Parrish referred to Daybreak as his Magnus Opus.  It is a blend of the sentimentality of the works by the Pre-Raphaelites but also retains the Old Master technique of adhering to the rules of proportion.  It is a gateway to an Arcadian fantasy where we are welcomed into a dazzling landscape bathed in dawn’s rising sun which is testament to Parrish’s ability to master light and colour.

Maxfield took a complex approach to how the composition should be worked out.  He used photography, paper cut-outs of the figures that he planned to include in the painting, props and models constructed in his workshop so that he could decide on the ultimate layout.  He would first complete the landscape and then use a stencil of the silhouette to impose the figure on top.  Once the composition had been decided by doing it in this way, he was able to concentrate on what colours he would use.  The beauty of this painting comes from Parrish’s painstaking and laborious process of painting with glazes, a process used by many of the Old Masters to achieve wonderful luminosity and strength of colour.  Look at the penetrating blue of the sky which radiates out from behind the foliage.  This cobalt blue became known as Parrish Blue.  He often used clever methods of reproducing grand components in his studio, for mountainous landscapes such as the one in Daybreak he used broken quartz rocks placed on a mirror. He created the effect of natural light and shadows through artificial methods, shining lamps on models and props.  The scenery for the painting bears a resemblance to a theatre set with its prescribed layout.

                                                                              Kitty Owen Spence

Lying on the floor in the left foreground is a young woman who was “part-modelled” by eighteen-year-old Kitty Owen Spence.  Kitty came from a world of social privilege, wealth, and opportunity being the granddaughter of William Jennings Bryan, a three-time US Presidential candidate.  According to the provenance of the painting, Kitty Owen Spence was said to have actually owned the work from around the 1940’s until 1974.  However, it turned out that William Jennings Bryan, her grandfather, had bought it for a fairly high amount, but because he had political ambitions and did not want it known that he had spent a large sum of money on a painting and this could be the reason that the provenance of the work was attributed to his granddaughter.

                                                                        Jean Parrish

Maxfield Parrish’s daughter, Jean, who was eleven at the time, posed as the standing figure who is bent over the prone figure.

                                                         Preparatory drawing of Daybreak

However, what is more intriguing is the figure that does not appear in the final work and this we know, if we look at his preliminary sketch of how he wanted the composition to be.  Maxfield had initially intended to have a third figure seated near the base of the column in the right foreground. It is also believed that this figure was intended to be posed by Susan Lewin, Maxfield’s housekeeper, his favourite model and lover.  Alma Gilbert, art dealer, curator, author, and broker specializing in Maxfield Parrish, speculates in her 2001 book Maxfield Parrish: The Masterworks that because his long-time model and probable mistress Susan Lewin posed for that third figure, Parrish’s daughter asked him to remove her.  In the end, however, Parrish used Lewin’s body as the model for the reclining figure and gave it the face of Kitty Owen.

Just two other interesting things about the painting I must recount.  As you know, I like a good story behind a painting and so did the House of Art who had commissioned the work.  They asked Maxfield to write a paragraph to accompany the work, but he declined, stating:

“…Alas, you have asked the very one thing that is entirely beyond me, to write a little story of Daybreak, or, in fact, of any other picture. I could do almost anything in the world for you but that. I know full well that public want a story, always want to know more about a picture than the picture tells them but to my mind if a picture does not tell its own story, it’s better to have the story without the picture. I couldn’t tell a single thing about Daybreak because there isn’t a single thing to tell; the picture tells all there is, there is nothing more…”

And so, it is up to viewers of the painting to create their own personal meaning of Daybreak.

Much has been written about the painting and I have tried to condense the information I have gleaned from various books and websites but I decided not to attempt to explain the compositional rules followed by Maxfield Parrish when he planned the work.  It has all to do with Jay Hambridge’s rules of dynamic symmetry and I will leave you great artists to read about that yourself.  It is far too complex for me!

                                                Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley

And finally, does the scene of the naked figure bending over the young woman who lies prone on the floor remind you of a similar, more recent scene ???  Caste your mind back to 1992 and the Michael Jackson music video for his song, You are not alone, in which he appears in an affectionate semi-nude scene lying on the ground with his then-wife, Lisa Marie Presley, bent over, looking down at him.  The painting has surprisingly always been in private ownership. On May 25th, 2006, Daybreak was purchased by a private collector, Mel Gibson’s then-wife, Robyn, at auction at Christie’s for US $7.6 million. This set a record price for a Parrish painting. Five years later, on May 21st, 2010, it was sold again for US$5.2 million.

In September 1918 Maxfield Parrish left Philadelphia and moved to an apartment at 75 East 81st Street, New York where he would be close to his two older sons who were attending the Teacher’s College.  Parrish asked Sue Lewin to accompany him and the two lived together there for almost a year.  By now it must have been obvious to him that people and the media were becoming interested in his relationship with his wife Lydia and his model, Sue Lewin.  Rumours were rife but Parrish would not comment on their enquiries about his relationship with Sue.  Maxfield Parrish was aware how scandal could devastate his life and career as he had witnessed the furore first-hand when his mother had left his father to join a Californian commune.  Sue was in full agreement with Maxfield about not commenting on their relationship and in a reply to a salacious question, she said:

“…I’ll have you know that Mr Parrish has never seen my bare knee…”

                  Edison Mazda 1921 calendar

This denial could well be taken with a “pinch of salt” as she had posed nude for his illustrations for the Mazda Lamp calendar of 1921.  After Parrish and Lewin had passed away, construction workers at the estate found a secret compartment where Parrish had hidden the nude photographs he had taken of Lewin.

By 1921, Parrish’s wife Lydia had had enough of the ménage à trois and confided with her friend and neighbour Mabel Churchill.  Mabel and her husband spoke to Maxfield and told him that his marriage to Lydia would not survive whilst Sue was living with him in the studio.  To help solve the problem Lydia went off to Europe with the Churchills and Sue moved from the studio at The Oaks and into Winston and Mabel Churchill’s vacated home.  On October 26th, 1923, in a cruel twist of fate the Churchill’s home, Harlakenden, burned to the ground and Sue had to return to living in the studio of The Oaks.  She would remain there for the next forty years!   The villagers from the tiny farm town were scandalized by this living arrangement and even sent a delegation out to the estate to confront Parrish, but Parrish and Lewin both contended that their relationship was purely platonic.

                          The Knave of Hearts by Louise Saunders

Lydia Parrish returned from her European journey to find the living arrangements of Sue Lewin had not changed.  She must have been both angry and sad but probably weighed up the pros and cons of divorcing her husband and reluctantly decided to remain living at The Oaks whilst Maxfield and Sue lived in the studio complex.  Sue Lewin continued to model for Parrish and appeared in many of the children’s book illustrations.  One such book was the Knave of Hearts written by Louise Saunders in which Sue posed for the characters of Lady Violetta, Ursula, and the Knave.

                                              The Enchanted Prince by Maxfield Parrish (1934)

The last time Sue modelled for one of Parrish’s paintings was in 1934 when she was forty-five-years-old, although the final model was Kathleen Philbrick Read.  It was entitled The Enchanted Prince and it depicts a beautiful young woman contemplating the frog which is perched in front of her.  When Maxfield completed the work, he decided not to sell it and instead, gave it to Sue.  In Alma Gilbert’s book, The Make-believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, she wrote that this gift could be to let her know that she was the youthful maiden who had dissipated his loneliness and returned him to rule over some enchanted kingdom.

                                                  Dreaming by Maxfield Parrish (1928)

From around 1930 Parrish’s paintings were landscape works.  One reason could have been that his favoured model Sue Lewin was now into her forties and could no longer pose as a lithe young female. In his 1928 painting, Dreaming, he completed for Reinthal Newman’s House of Art in 1928, we see a young girl sitting underneath a tree beside a lake in a tranquil autumn setting. 

                                  Dreaming/October by Maxfield Parrish (1932)

In his 1932 version of the work, entitled Dreaming/October, which was Maxfield’s last work he had created for General Electric Mazda company, he removed the figure and turned the work into a pure landscape painting.

Like all good novels, the reader cannot wait to read the last chapter to see what happens in the end.  So, let me tell you how it all ended for the three main protagonists of these blogs, Maxfield, his wife Lydia and his favoured model, Sue Lewin.  Maxfield Parrish continued with his close relationship with Sue despite being married to Lydia.  His children had all married and moved away from the family home, The Oaks.

Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands by Lydia Parrish (1942)

Lydia who had often spent an annual vacation on St. Simmons Island, the largest of the Golden Isles along south Georgia’s Atlantic coast, which she had first visited in 1912.  She eventually bought herself a cottage and some land on the island and became interested in old plantation songs and eventually in 1942 had a book published, Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands.  Lydia died alone of cancer on Saint Simmons Island on March 29th 1953, aged eighty-one.  Lydia was buried on the island at the Oglethorpe Memorial Gardens.  At the time of her death, she had been married to Maxfield for fifty-eight years.

                                                     Susan Lewin (c.1970’s)

Maxfield was now a widower and had the opportunity to move his close and intimate relationship with Sue Lewin to a marriage status but that did not happen.  Whether Sue held out the hope that he would propose we cannot be sure but she stayed with him for a further seven years until in 1960 when she was 71 and Maxfield was 90, she left him and married Earl Colby who had been her childhood sweetheart and had once courted her whilst she lived and worked at The Oaks.  The question of why Maxfield never proposed marriage to Sue is not known.  Maybe he believed it was just too late in his life or maybe he remembered the problems with his marriage to Lydia and also the failed marriage of his father and of course he had always denied that he and Sue had had an intimate relationship.  Shortly after Sue married Earl Colby, Maxfield Parrish made a new will which started by stating that firstly, all his debts were to be paid off and then secondly:

“…I give and bequeath to SUSAN LEWIN COLBY the sum of Three Thousand Dollars ($3000) and direct that any inheritance, estate, death, succession or other tax imposed by the Federal Government or any State Government on this bequest be paid out of my residuary estate…”

For a rich man, giving the sum of three thousand dollars to somebody he had known for fifty-five years may be looked upon as a trifling amount.  Why was it such a small amount?  Had an earlier will bequeathed her more?  Was it an act of revenge for her marrying Colby?  It was if the amount was a suitable sum for one of his servants which would, of course, substantiate his declaration that there had never been a close relationship between him and Sue.  Or was the fact that Sue was mentioned in the will a declaration by Parrish and acknowledgement of his relationship with her.  We will just never know.  Earl Colby died in 1968. Colby had children from a previous marriage who inherited his house. Sue then moved into her Aunt’s home. Her aunt then left the dwelling to Sue in her will and this was where she lived for the rest of her life.   Sue Lewin Colby passed away on January 27th 1978 and was interred that Spring alongside her late husband in the Plainfield cemetery.

                                             Getting Away From It All by Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield Parrish continued with his painting until 1961 when, he was ninety-one-years-old.  His arthritis prevented him from painting any more.  His last work was a small landscape painting entitled Getting Away From It All and can be viewed as Parrish’s ultimate expression of his love of nature.  It is a beautiful depiction, showing one small, snow-covered cottage which appears dwarfed by the towering mountains surrounding it, yet the window of the home persistently glows with warmth from within. It is a more exceptional work in that Parrish chose to paint the subject solely for himself and remained with him, in his studio, for the remainder of his life and maybe the title of the painting recognises that, with this work complete, he was giving up his career as an artist.

Maxfield Parrish spent his last years in a wheelchair and was looked after in his house by a live-in nurse.  On March 30th 1966, he died, aged 95.  He was buried at Plainfield Cemetery, Sullivan County, New Hampshire.  Three years later, his eldest son, John Dilwyn Parrish, who died on January 4th 1969, was buried besides him.

Maxfield Parrish. Part 3.

                                               Maxfield Parrish

In 1914, before Maxfield Parrish had  completed the Florentine Fête murals, the Curtis Publishing company, through Edward Bok, decided to commission a monumental-sized mural at 15ft x 49ft (4.6 m × 14.9 m) which would be placed in the building lobby. For some unknown reason Bok decided not to give the commission to Parrish.  Maybe it was because Parrish was still working on Bok’s previous 18-painting commission or maybe Bok was disappointed with Parrish at the length of time he was taking to complete that project.  Whatever reason, Bok made the fateful decision to approach other muralists, but fate stepped in to thwart him.

                                                      Curtis Centre mural by Maxfield Parrish

Bok first went to London and met the American muralist, illustrator, and painter Edwin A. Abbey, who had based himself in London since 1883.  Abbey was working on a project for the capitol building in Harrisburg, but Bok persuaded him to agree to the commission and was given free rein to paint anything he liked for the proposed Curtis Centre mural.  Bok returned to America elated with the deal he had made with Abbey.  However, the day after Abbey started work on the mural, he collapsed and died.  Bok still preferring not to approach Parrish, tried to contact Howard Pyle who was making a name for himself as an educator and muralist. Pyle had been living in Italy with his family for a year.  Bok had never met Pyle and on finally contacting Pyle’s home by telephone he was informed that fifty-eight-year-old Pyle had just died in Florence of a kidney infection.  Still undeterred and disregarding fate, Bok approached a third artist, Louis Boutet de Monvel, a famous decorative master, and he agreed to carry out the project, Monvel was invited to Philadelphia to inspect the space at the Curtis building and discuss the project but almost immediately after arrangements were made, Monvel died in Paris.

Bok circa 1918

Edward Bok

Edward Bok was now feeling that his mural project was cursed.  Finally, he put the commission out to tender and received back six submissions, all of which were rejected by a panel of judges.  Bok’s final throw of the dice was his approach to Louis Comfort Tiffany, an American artist and designer who worked in the decorative arts and is best known for his work in stained glass, and who had once designed a glass mosaic curtain for the Mexico City’s Municipal Theatre. Bok had seen the work and remembered the look of favrile glass, the name given to a type of iridescent art glass which had been developed and patented by the artist.   Bok finally contacted Parrish and asked him to come up with a sketch for Tiffany to use, despite the fact that Parrish had never worked with glass or mosaics. Parrish’s preliminary drawing was approved.

                                        Curtis Centre mural by Maxfield Parrish

The collaborative project took six months of planning and thirty skilled workers were employed.  Over one million pieces of glass were used to create the Dream Garden mural and the finished work was given a New York exhibition where it was viewed by over seven thousand people. People were thrilled with the finished work.  It took six months for the mural to be disassembled in New York and then reassembled in Philadelphia.  The mural which was now in the lobby of the Curtis Company building was admired by thousands and became a Philadelphia art treasure.  All was well until July 1998 when it was announced that it was about to be removed and sold to an anonymous buyer by the Estate of developer and arts patron Jack Merriam. It was later discovered that the mystery buyer was the casino owner Steve Wynn, who planned to move it to Las Vegas.  The beneficiaries of the estate were four non-profit education and arts institutions and Merriam’s widow, who died before the disposition of The Dream Garden was settled.  Following a vociferous public outcry, the buyer decided not to pursue the purchase. To provide greater protection for the mural in the future, the Philadelphia Historical Commission designated the mural as the City’s first “historic object,” under an existing provision of the historic preservation ordinance. The Merriam estate appealed this designation and followed up by filing for a demolition permit.  Appeals and counter-appeals followed for the next three years.  Finally, in 2001, came a sweeping gesture of civic rescue, when the Pew Charitable Trusts agreed to provide $3,5 million to buy out the interest of the owner’s heirs, and the three remaining beneficiaries and turned the mural over to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with the understanding that it will remain in the lobby of the Curtis Building.

                                                              The Rubaiyat by Maxfield Parrish, 1917

The sweet manufacturer, Ohio-born, Clarence A. Crane, commissioned Maxfield Parrish to create decorative labels for the Crane’s Chocolates Christmas gift boxes from 1916 to 1918.  For the 1916 Christmas gift box of chocolates Parrish submitted the art print entitled Rubáiyát which was adapted from the poem by Omar Khayyam.

                                                              Cleopatra by Maxfield Parrish (1917)

For the 1917 Christmas gift box, Mr. Crane suggested to Parrish that he should make Cleopatra the subject for the painting as he and the public had been delighted with Parrish’s depiction of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám that he painted for the previous year’s edition of the gift box. Parrish was pleased to go along with the suggestion and in a letter, he wrote to Mr. Crane:

“…Cleopatra is welcome here, or any lady of history of undoubted charm…Of course there are no end of subjects. All I care about is something that can hold color and be made effective…”

186047267_e4f269bf-da54-4aa7-b326-323ddd473a4d

Mabel Harlakenden Churchill

Now all Parrish had to do was decide on a young model to pose as Cleopatra.  Parrish asked his best friend, neighbour, and confidante, the American writer Winston Churchill if his wife, Mabel Harlakenden Churchill, would pose as Cleopatra. Parrish’s wife, Lydia, made the request and Mabel agreed to model for the painting. The painting was well received and according to Coy Ludwig’s 1973 book, Maxfield Parrish, it received an enthusiastic reception:

“…Cleopatra arrived in Cleveland on April 16, 1917, to an enthusiastic reception. The unusual design, with subjects in costumes reminiscent of silent-film exotica, combined several bare-chested oarsmen, a female attendant, and Cleopatra in a loose robe reclining on a bed of roses in a frame of frozen moonlight. The lapis lazuli blue water and the typical Parrish blue starlit sky were separated at the horizon by white mountains. Polka-dotted and checkered fabrics, used as the lap robes of the oarsmen and the headdress of the standing figure, were a favourite motif of the artist…”

                         The Garden of Allah design by Maxfield Parrish (1917)

The third Crane’s Christmas gift box of chocolates, produced in 1918, was adorned by Parrish’s print of an oil on panel painting entitled Garden of Allah.  The Garden of Allah was the title of a 1904 novel by Robert Hichens and was one of the most popular novels of the early 20th century. So popular that it went through forty-four editions over the next 40 years. In this work we can see how Parrish was influenced by Pre-Raphaelite painters such as William Holman Hunt

These three candy boxes that Parrish produced for Crane were extremely successful for both Crane’s Chocolates and for Maxfield Parrish. The partnership between Crane and Parrish was mutually beneficial and proved a significant turning point in the illustrator’s career.  From this point onwards, Maxfield Parrish declared that he would only accept commissions, like the one with Crane, which interested him artistically.  Maxfield Parrish’s illustrations on the chocolate boxes proved so popular that the Crane company issued them as art prints, which could be ordered through a form enclosed in the gift boxes.  In Coy Ludwig’s biography Maxfield Parrish he wrote:

“…Crane regarded the art prints as a means of building prestige for his firm and a moderately profitable service he might provide for his clients who wanted replicas of the candy-box illustrations suitable for framing…The demand for reproductions of Parrish’s decorations grew so great that Crane arranged for the House of Art, the New York fine arts publishing and distributing firm, to handle the marketing of the prints…Crane’s reproductions helped to create an unprecedented public demand for Parrish’s paintings in the art-print market and with it the assurance of continued financial security for the artist…”

                                                         Daybreak, by Maxfield Parrish (1922)

Daybreak was an iconic painting completed by Maxfield Parrish in 1922.  Parrish was commissioned to paint Daybreak by the art publishing firm House of Art in August 1920. The commission of Daybreak was motivated by the art-print successes of the three illustrations Maxfield Parrish had completed as decorations for Crane’s Chocolates Christmas gift boxes from 1916 to 1918.  One example of this was his painting of Cleopatra which was the cover illustration of Crane’s Chocolates 1917 Christmas gift box, and it signified the artist’s successful incursion into commercial advertising.

Daybreak was Maxfield’s first work commissioned solely for reproduction as a colour lithograph print and became one of the most reproduced images in American history, according to the auction house, Christie’s catalogue, it was estimated that one of every four households in America had a copy of the work, making it a national sensation and cultural phenomenon.

            The Knave of Hearts by Louise Saunders

Meanwhile, Maxfield was preoccupied with completing illustrations for Louise Sander’s book, Knave of Hearts and did not start to work on Daybreak until the summer of 1922.  He had to placate Stephen Newman, the co-owner of House of Art, saying:

“… As to the ‘great painting,’ its beautiful white panel is always on the wall before me, and I am thinking great things into it. I have thought so many beautiful things into it that it ought to make a good print just as it is. Have patience…”

……………………..to be concluded.

Maxfield Parrish. Part 2.

                                           Maxfield Parrish in 1896

More and more illustration commissions came in to Maxfield and soon he was becoming financially sound.  In 1898, with money earnt and financial help from his father, Maxfield and Lydia felt able to purchase some land atop a hill in Plainfield, New Hampshire, which overlooked Mount Ascutney.  Here Maxfield built a one-room cabin.  Lydia would often remain in Philadelphia to carry on teaching which also allowed Maxfield to carry on with his own work as well as planning and building a larger home for them.  Maxfield and Lydia would stay with his parents at their large home, Northcote, whilst their new home was being built. Maxfield’s father and mother had moved to Cornish, New Hampshire in 1894 where there was a thriving artist’s colony founded by the American sculptor, Augustus St. Gaudens. 

                                 An aerial view of The Oaks, the former estate of Maxfield Parrish.

Maxfield and Lydia’s new home, known as The Oaks, was built on a large tract of land on an isolated hillside across the valley from his father’s home and close to the Vermont-New Hampshire border.  It comprised of a guest house, studio, and 45 acres of hillside land and was so named because of the magnificent trees next to their home especially one giant old oak tree. 

Maxfield Parrish drew inspiration from his Plainfield, New Hampshire home, “The Oaks,”

The Oaks was built around the trees and rocks on the hillside site. The largest white oak in Sullivan County, New Hampshire, stands near what was the front entrance of the house, and the ground floor was built on two levels to accommodate a large rock ledge.

Night in the desert by Maxfield Parrish. From “The Great South West” by Ray Stannard Baker (1902)

Two years after Maxfield and Lydia had moved into their newly built home,  he had a health scare.  Lydia, whilst teaching at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, received an urgent telegram from her father-in-law telling her that Maxfield had been taken seriously ill and she should return home immediately.  Lydia instantly left her school and took the train to Windsor.  She would never return to her teaching position at Drexel nor would she carry on with the private students she had been tutoring.  Maxfield Parrish was diagnosed as contracting tuberculosis which at the time was a deadly illness.  Lydia stayed with her husband despite the disease being highly contagious.   After being discharged from hospital, Lydia followed her husband to a Saranac Lake sanatorium in New York State where he underwent treatment and began his recuperation.   The sanatorium treatment was expensive but financial help came to Maxfield through a cheque for five hundred dollars given to him by his best friend and neighbour, the American writer, Winston Churchill.  Churchill who had also settled in the area in the same year as Maxfield in 1898, became great friends. The two were of a similar age, and Churchill had married the same year as Maxfield and Lydia.  During the convalescent years between 1900 and 1901 Parrish painted at Saranac Lake, New York and at Hot Springs, Arizona,

Cowboys by Maxfield Parrish. From “The Great South West” by Ray Stannard Baker (1902)

Whilst convalescing at Saranac Lakes Parrish received a commission from Century Magazine to illustrate the Ray Stannard Baker series entitled Great South West and from the money Parrish received, he was able to afford to further convalesce in Castle Creek Hot Springs in Arizona during the winter of 1901-02.  Maxfield and Lydia returned home to The Oaks in April 1902.  The Spring and summer of 1902 up until 1904 was probably the happiest Lydia had ever been.  No children as yet, she was able to devote time to cultivate the garden and time for her to paint, it was just as life should be for her.

             Edith Wharton’s book Italian Villas and Their Gardens, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield’s health had improved and he was now looking out for new commissions.  In 1903 Maxfield accepted a commission from Century Magazine to illustrate Edith Wharton’s book Italian Villas and Their Gardens which they were going to serialise.

Villa d’Este, Tivoli, near Rome. The Pool at Villa d’Este, illustration by Maxfield Parrish (1903) for Edith Wharton’s book.

For him to complete this commission Maxfield decided to travel to Italy and photograph and then paint the different villas that Wharton would be writing about in her book. Days after his marriage he had “abandoned” his wife to go to Europe on his own but this time she accompanied him, and in a way, it made up for the honeymoon they had missed at the time of their wedding.  It was a time when Maxfield and Lydia became very close.  Sadly, for her, it was to be the only trip she would make with him.

Scribner’s Magazine (October 1900) by Maxfield Parrish

All artists need models and many married male artists often use their young wives.  Before Lydia Parrish gave birth to their first child in 1904, she was Maxfield’s model in a number of his works including the Scribner Magazine October 1900 cover.

                                                          Page from the book Story of Ann Powel

She also modelled for Maxfield’s beautiful full-page drawing of Ann Powel, framed by a simple doorway, to accompany Annie Tynan’s piece in the 1900 Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, The Story of Ann Powel.

                                              Potpourri by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

Maxfield Parrish also used himself as a model for some of his paintings.  One example of this is his 1905 illustration, Potpourri, which featured in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1905.   The illustration depicts a nude boy picking flowers in the forest. The large sun is peeking through the foliage and typically of Parrish there are two columns and a large fountain or urn. It is reputed that Parrish attached a string to his camera and snapped the photo of himself to use as the model for the illustration.  The illustration was drawn to illustrate a poem by H.C. Dwight and the line:

“…Ah, never in the world were there such roses as ones from that enchanted trellis hung…”

                                                                                   Lydia Parrish (1895)

Lydia Parrish’s modelling days had come to an end in 1904 when she became pregnant with their first child, John Dilwyn, who was born that December.  For the previous years, Lydia Parrish had been an equal partner with her husband.  She would entertain his and her friends as well as prospective clients.  She ably ran the household, managed the household finances, and oversaw the domestic help that had finally come to assist her after the birth of Dillwyn in December 1904. In 1905, she was expecting their second child, and was struggling to look after her first child as well as running the household for her husband, not to mention the lack of time she had for her own art and her writing.  It was decided that Lydia needed more help and so, Maxfield and Lydia Parrish hired sixteen-year-old Susan Lewin who had been working at Maxfield Parrish’s father’s house, Northcote, since she was fourteen and was pleased at Stephen Parrish’s suggestion that she should help his son and daughter-in-law.  She received a wage of a dollar a day plus board and lodgings.  Sadly, life for Maxfield and Lydia would never be the same again !!!

                                                                                          Susan Lewin

Young Susan Lewin was born in the farm town of Harland Vermont on November 22nd 1889.  She was one of six children of Elmer and Nellie Lewin and because of the household’s financial problems had to abandon school after only two years in order to become a wage earner.  She was a tall and willowy young woman with thick cascading hair and an oval face with large expressive eyes and a classic profile. She first met Maxfield when she was working for his father at Northcote and his good looks and charm was not lost on her.  She had just the romantic appearance which reminded Maxfield of the ladies depicted in the Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which he loved, and her good looks and charm was probably not lost on him! 

                                                                                       Susan Lewin

The arrival of their first child caused problems for Maxfield as he was constantly being interrupted by noise whist trying to concentrate on his painting and so, had a builder, George Ruggles, build a fifteen-room studio, some forty feet across the lawn from the main house.   The building comprised of three bedrooms, a kitchen, two painting rooms, two bathrooms, a dark room for his photography and rooms to store all his artistic paraphernalia which he used to construct his compositions.  Here he could paint in peace.  For his wife Lydia, her painting days were over.  She had to look after their children and keep them from disturbing her husband! The relationship between Maxfield Parrish and Susan Lewin was symbiotic.  She tended to him hand and foot.  She was passive and obedient and always eager to please and was amenable to all his wishes.  She was an excellent cook and a perfect servant to her master.  Later her two sisters, Annie and Emily joined the household as extra help for Mrs Parrish.

                                                             Harvest by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

In the early days of Sue Lewin’s stay at The Oaks she did receive a number of suitors but nothing became of them.  However, one suitor, Kimball Daniels, also began courting Sue’s sister Annie and eventually in 2011 the two were married.  He worked for the Parrish family tending their sheep and cows as well as harvesting the crops.  Kimball was the model for Parrish’s 1905 painting, Harvest.  We see him standing proudly on a hillock, scythe in hand.  Tragically he was found dead from a broken neck on the property twenty months after his marriage.

                                Land of Make Believe by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

Not only did Susan Lewin help Maxfield’s wife with childcare she also became a model for some of Maxfield’s paintings.   The first painting for which the sixteen-year-old girl posed was entitled Land of Make-Believe.  The painting depicts two figures in a verdant and enchanted garden. The taller figure on the right is based on a photograph of Susan Lewin in costume.  She stands in a contrapposto pose among blooming climbing roses. The two figures are attired in medieval costume and this adds to the unreality of the scene. Maxfield Parrish’s idealized fantasy worlds he created in his painting, such as this one, appealed to the buying public. These works were simply pictorial escapism and his fantasy world helped them believe there were safe and gentle places which were so different from the world they currently lived in.  Parrish’s illustration was used as the frontispiece to Rosamund Marriott Watson’s Make-Believe published in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1912. Marriott Watson’s poem reminisces about the care-free childhood world of “let’s pretend” filled with enchanted woods, castles, and witches.

In the 1995 book, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, by Laurence and Judy Cutler, they wrote about Maxfield’s delight at having Susan in the household:

“…When Susan bounded around The Oaks with babes in arms, Parrish watched her with fascination. He imagined her as his counterpart to Lord Leighton’s companion model, Dene. When he first asked her to model for him and that first pose resulted in the painting Land of Make-Believe, Parrish was so happy with the outcome that he began to use Susan as his constant model…”

In the Land of Make-Believe, look closely at the way Parrish has lit up this depiction.  There is a double lighting effect.    The figures in the foreground are illuminated by soft and delicate light, while if you study the cliffs in the background you can see that they glow luminously from the radiance of the setting sun giving the work a feeling of depth whilst the two enormous columns in the middle ground of the depiction anchor Maxfield’s painting as well as acting as a frame for both the foreground and background.  The inclusion of monumental columns like these appear in one of his most famous works – the 1922 painting entitled Daybreak, which turned out to be one of the most replicated paintings in American history and will be discussed in the next part of this series.

Pied Piper mural by Maxfield Parrish (1909)

By 1909 Parrish’s demands on Sue to model for his paintings were becoming increasingly intense.  In 1909 she posed for a number of characters of his large-scale mural The Pied Piper which had been commissioned by the Palace Hotel in San Francisco for their Pied Piper bar and restaurant, a favoured spot of locals and visitors from around the world. 

                                                         Pied Piper bar with Maxfield Parrish mural

The Pied Piper, originally named The Happy Valley Bar, made its grand opening in 1909. Composed specifically for the re-opening after the 1906 earthquake, Maxfield Parrish created The Pied Piper of Hamelin painting, which still graces the hotel after over 100 years.

                   Sweet Nothings – part of the Florentine Fete mural by Maxfield Parrish

In 1910, Edward Bok, the director of Ladies Home Journal offered Maxfield a commission to paint eighteen panels for The Girls’ Dining Room at the Curtis Publishing building in Philadelphia, which was under construction at 6th and Walnut. Each painting would be placed between the windows which overlooked the street. Bok, because the company employed so many females, decided that they should have their own dining room on the top floor.   It was a mammoth assignment and Bok wanted it completed within twelve months and agreed to pay Parrish $2000 per panel.  Parrish completed the first piece, Florentine Fête Mural in July 1910 and he sent it to the building’s architect, Robert Seeler, for him to approve, writing:

“…The scene will be in white marble loggia:  the foreground will be a series of wide steps extending across the entire picture leading up to three arches and supporting columns…It will be my aim to make it joyous, a little unreal, a good place to be in, a sort of happiness of youth…”

Sue Lewin posing for the Sweet Nothings panel (see figure in far right of the mid-ground)

There are over a hundred figures in the panels of the murals and Maxfield had Sue Lewin to model for all but two of them.  It was such a monumental project that both Maxfield and Sue moved out of the main residence at The Oaks and lived in his studio whilst Maxfield’s wife remained at the big house with the children.  Maxfield Parrish was forty-six years of age when he completed the commission and it is interesting to read in Alma Gilbert’s 1990 book, The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, the artist thought of himself as being much younger.  She wrote:

“…Sue Lewin was the woman who ‘youthened’ Parrish’s spirit.  The Florentine Fête panels are his tribute to that wish to remain young, as embodied by the beautiful young woman who so dominated his art and his thoughts during the midpoint of his life…”

Parrish completed all but one of the mural paintings by 1913 and the final one was finished in 1916.

……………………………….to be continued.


Much of the information for these Maxfield Parrish blogs comes from the excellent 1990 book by Alma Gilbert: The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin,

Frederick Maxfield Parrish. Part 1.

                                                            Maxfield Parish (c.1920)

In previous blogs, when I looked at the world of illustrators and the lives of some of the leading nineteenth century American exponents such as the Red Rose Girls and Howard Pyle, one name that kept cropping up was the renowned painter and illustrator, Frederick Maxfield Parrish.  He was an influential and prolific American painter and illustrator, who was ranked amongst the most commercially successful and highest paid artists of the US during the 1920s.

Frederick Parrish was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 25th 1870.  His descendent, Edward Parrish, the captain of a trading vessel which journeyed between England and Chesapeake Bay, hailed from Yorkshire, England.  On settling in America he was given three thousand acres of land where Baltimore is now situated.  Today’s artist’s given name was Frederick, but he later, in 1896, adopted Maxfield as his middle name.  This was the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, Susanna Maxfield Parrish.  Later he would use Maxfield as his professional name.  Maxfield was born into a devout Quaker family.  His father was Stephen Parrish, a landscape painter and engraver who ran a coal business and then a stationery shop in Philadelphia for several years.   The room above the shop was one in which he held etching classes.  Stephen Parrish married Elizabeth Bancroft in 1869, and his only child, Frederick Maxfield, was born the following year.

Maxfield’s first art tuition came from his father at the age of three, and years later he recounted that his father was the most influential teacher and that the two of them had an excellent relationship.   During his childhood Maxfield enjoyed drawing and was a very competent draughtsman and a constant doodler!   In 1877 Maxfield and his father travelled to France on a painting trip.  

                                                        Poems of Childhood by Eugene Field (1904)

Maxfield was taken ill as a young child and was confined to his bed for many days.  It is thought that this may have inspired Parrish many years later for the illustrations he completed for Eugene Fields book, Poems of Childhood, one of which depicted a little boy sick in bed and having weird dreams. The cutting out of shapes and figures by the young boy would have remained with him in later life when he used pencil cut-outs as groundwork for his illustrative work in later life.

                                               Etching of Gloucester Harbor by Stephen Parrish (1882)

In spite of Stephen Parrish’s lack of formal art training. In 1877, Stephen Parrish, still in his thirties. sold his shop and business and concentrated on his beloved art. This was a bold, some would say foolish move to become a professional artist having only sold only six paintings by 1879, and on top of this he had to financially support a wife and a nine-year-old son.  He was fortunate however as what was termed the Etching Revival was just beginning in America.  Between the second half of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, the Etching Revival was an expression which referred to the rebirth of etching and was all about the huge growth and circulation of the art print as, in itself, an art form, especially in the United States.  In November 1879 Stephen took his first etching lesson from the already successful Philadelphia artist, Peter Moran.

               Illustrated letter from Maxfield Parrish to Henry Bancroft, London, July 22nd, 1884

Stephen Parrish quickly recognised his son’s burgeoning artistic talent.  He and Maxfield would go off on painting trips at the weekends, first around their hometown but later further afield to places such as the Massachusetts coastal districts of Cape Ann, East Gloucester and Annisquam.  Fourteen-year-old Maxfield returned to France with his family in 1884.  They embarked on a two-year European journey during which time they visited England, northern Italy, and Paris.  During the first winter in Paris Maxfield studied art at Dr. Kornemann’s school, regularly visited art museums and attended concerts and operas every week. Besides Maxfield’s love of art he slowly developed a love of music. 

            Illustrated postcard from Maxfield Parrish to Henry Bancroft, Paris, October 24, 1884

During his time in Europe Maxfield wrote many letters and postcards to his paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Bancroft and to his cousin Henry Bancroft in Pennsylvania.  Those to his cousin were festooned with whimsical and interesting doodles. Some of the letters are held in a collection of the Delaware Art Museum. This collection consists of 34 letters and postcards written and illustrated by Parrish to his cousin, Henry Bancroft, between 1883 and 15 letters and postcards written between 1902 and 1909 and a drawing by Parrish’s son, Dillwyn.

                                                       Funeral of Victor Hugo, on June 1st, 1885

Whilst Maxfield and his family were living in Paris, the great French writer,  poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement, Victor Hugo, died on May 22nd 1885 and on July 1st, he was laid to rest.  Crowds of people turned out for the funeral procession and Maxfield remembered the day and the funeral cortège well:

“…I was fifteen, and climbed a tree on the Champs-Elysées.  The avenue was jammed but I scattered the crowd when a branch of my tree broke with a noise like a pistol shot.  They thought it was the beginning of a nihilist demonstration…”

 Maxfield and his parents returned to America in 1886 and Maxfield continued with his education.  In 1888 he enrolled at the prestigious Haverford College, where he studied architecture and was a member of Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. Art was not taught at this Quaker college and this fact was commented on by Maxfield who wrote:

“…It would be going too far to state that art was in any way forbidden yet there was a feeling in the air it was looked upon with suspicion, as maybe related distantly to graven images and the like…”

                                                             Thomas Eakins self-portrait (1902)

It was in 1891 when Maxfield Parrish began studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and this was almost six years after Thomas Eakins, one of the Academy’s directors, had been forced to resign in 1886, for a number of controversial decisions he had made, the final straw being him removing the loincloth of a male model in a life class where female students were present.  Despite that six-year gap Eakins’ ideas and inspirations were still in evidence at the Academy.  One of these was Eakins’ practice of using photography as a tool in his art. 

                   Photo of Male Figures at the Site of Swimming by Thomas Eakins (1883)

One of the classic examples of Eakins’ use of photography is his 1883 photo entitled Eakins’ Students at the site for the “Swimming Hole”.  In the picture we see Eakins standing slightly away from the others at the left, looking on at his students who are cavorting in the water at Mill Creek near Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

                            The Swimming Hole (The Swimmers) by Thomas Eakins (1885)

From this photograph and other studies which depicted nude boys playing at a variety of outdoor sports he slowly progressed with his famous painting entitled The Swimming Hole, which originally was simply entitled Swimming, and is now part of the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas. Eakins used both male and female nudes, often students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for models, and that was another reason for his downfall as Director of the Academy.

                                                                                         The Oaks

Despite the scandals surrounding Eakins, Maxfield felt that photography could help him with his art and soon he was investigating all the possibilities this tool would afford him.  Being a supreme draftsman, Parrish had the ability to draw a figure with the exactness of a photograph.  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.  He persisted on using the camera as an artistic implement, but as an aid and not a crutch for his art.  When he designed his new house, The Oaks, he ensured that there would be a darkroom in which he developed his film, which he printed on four by five inch glass slides, which could then be projected using a magic lantern.  Once that was done, he was able to 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 him to make arrangement decisions.  Parrish developed great photographic skills and he built up a collection of over eleven hundred glass slides.

In 1892 he enrolled as a student at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).  Initially, Parrish thought that he would carry on studying architecture, but soon he developed a love for drawing and painting and so with architecture forgotten Maxfield concentrated on becoming a professional artist.  Here he received art tuition from many great educators including Robert Vonnoh and Thomas Pollock Anschutz.   His class at the Academy included other aspiring painters such as William Glackens, who would become a renowned realist painter and one of the founders of the Ashcan School of American art, and Florence Scovel Shinn, who later became a well-known American writer, artist, and book illustrator.

Stephen Parrish’s home Northcote – now and in 1906

Maxfield had a long-term friendship with one of his Academy classmates, Elsie Evangeline Deming, who he nicknamed Daisy.  In one of the many letters that they exchanged Maxfield extolled the beauty and tranquillity of the area, Cornish, New Hampshire, where his father had moved and was having his Northcote house built.  

                                                           Aspet, home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ home in Cornish, called Aspet (present day)

Stephen Parrish had come to Cornish in 1893, following the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens along with other artists, writers, and musicians who made up what came to be known as the Cornish Colony. From 1893 to 1902 Stephen Parrish spent his time building the house, a shop, a greenhouse, a stable for his horse Betty, a studio, and the extensive gardens. To take advantage of the view Parrish lined up the main garden path with the sunset and set benches around a tall pine at the end of the path.  Maxfield said that just being in the area gave him a sense of optimism and strengthened his aspirations for the future.  In a letter from Maxfield Parrish to his friend Elsie Deming, September 3, 1893, he wrote:

“…Oh, Daisy, you should see our place in the hillsides of New Hampshire. I was there for a week and it went way ahead of expectations. Wilson Eyre is putting us a pretty house upon it which I have not yet seen. Such an ideal country, so paintable and beautiful, so far away from everything and a place to dream one’s life away. Why daddy is a new man with it all and I long to be up there and become identified with it …. I shall go up to Windsor to stay indefinitely, maybe till December. It is a paradise up there in the mountains when the year is old! I hate to think of the city again – ever! My share of outdoor life has been a generous and appreciated one. It has changed me in many ways…”

The town of Cornish became a well-known summer resort for artists and writers, who wanted to escape the hostile summer climate of New York.  Soon, the surrounding area became the centre of the popular Cornish Art Colony

                                               Annisquam Village of Gloucester, Massachusetts

In 1894 Maxfield graduated from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and went to the Annisquam Village of Gloucester, Massachusetts where he and his father, Stephen, had shared a painting studio during the summers of ’82 and ’83.  His father wanted his son to expand his artistic knowledge and suggested he enrolled at the Drexel Institute at which the legendry Howard Pyle, the dean of American illustration,  was lecturing on illustrative work and graphic design.  According to Maxfield’s son, Maxfield Jnr., Howard Pyle after looking at his father’s work  advised him that his classes at the Drexel Institute would be too elementary but Pyle enlisted Maxfield’s help in auditing his classes.  It was during one of these class audits that Maxfield met another of the painting instructors, Lydia Ambler Austin, one of only three women allowed to teach in the prestigious school, who had arrived at the Institute in 1893.

                                                            Lydia Ambler Austin Parrish (1895)

Lydia Ambler Austin, reputed to be a woman of great beauty, was born in Woodstown, New Jersey, to a Quaker farming family in 1872. She was reserved but a very clever and gifted young woman.  It transpires that during her early life, she had been a suffragette and was focused on helping women achieve status in their professions.  Maxfield Parrish was smitten by Lydia.  The story goes that Howard Pyle was involved in preparing the way for the pair to start a relationship which eventually resulted in Maxfield declaring his love for his teacher in 1894.  

                            Cover of the 1895 Easter edition of Harper’s Bazar by Maxfield Parrish.

Howard Pyle had also told Parrish that in his opinion, he was ready to execute a commission for a magazine and Pyle contacted Harper’s Bazar and recommended Maxfield’s work knowing that the magazine was looking for a new artist for their 1895 Easter cover.

Maxfield and Lydia were married on June 1st, 1895 and went on to have four children, three sons, John Dillwyn born December 13th 1904, Maxfield Frederick born August 14th, 1906 and Stephen born November 14th 1909 and a daughter, Jean who was born on June 26th, 1911.   Within a week of getting married, Maxfield Parrish left his wife and travelled to visit European salons and galleries in Paris, London, and Brussels, where he hoped to arrange to exhibit some of his work.  It also gave him a chance to observe the works of the Old Masters.  He was in awe of the great works.  In a letter from Brussels to his wife on June 20th 1895 he wrote:

“…I have been feasting on glorious pictures in a great gallery.  Oh, the masters of the Dutch and Flemish schools knew how to paint!….”

Again in another letter to his wife, this time from Paris, he wrote about his love of the French capital:

“…Here, I am in Paris at last!…………Never has anything appeared to me so vast, so magnificent.  When I arrived here at sunset the city burst upon me as nothing ever did.  The streets are endless and marvels of beauty…”

On his return to America in mid-August 1895, the couple moved to a rented apartment located at Twelfth and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia.  Life for this married couple could not have been better.  His artwork was beginning to be appreciated by publishers and he was achieving a steady income for his illustrative work.  Even after Lydia became a married woman she carried on with her art and her teaching as the money she earned help the couple’s finances.

 Maxfield Parrish poster advertising the August 1897 issue of The Century magazine

Besides the Easter cover for Harper’s Bazar, Maxfield had begun receiving commissions illustrate other covers for the magazine.  He also received money from Century magazine for posters and covers he completed in 1896. Maxfield entered this poster design to Century magazine who were holding  competitions to attract new talent. The Century Company’s poster competition for its Midsummer edition of 1896 was won by Joseph Leyendecker. Maxfield Parrish won the second prize, and his poster was used the following year.

         PAFA 1896 Poster Show poster by Maxfield Parrish

The Pennsylvania Academy commissioned Maxfield Parrish to design a poster for their 1896 Poster Show.

Maxfield Parrish’s Very Little Red Riding Hood (1897)

Another poster commission which Maxfield completed in 1897 was for the Mask and Wig Club of Philadelphia. The club which came into existence in 1888 was founded by a small group of University of Pennsylvania undergraduates, who were interested in the stage.  They were talented and ambitious young men of prominent Philadelphia families with no proper outlet for their artistic pursuits! Maxfield was asked to create a poster for their forthcoming play, Very Little Red Riding Hood. 

The Outing Magazine Last Rose of Summer cover by Maxfield Parrish, (1899). Oil, gouache and ink on paper laid on board

The Outing Magazine commissioned Parrish to provide a cover illustration for their 1899 Last Rose of Summer edition.  In the poster, Maxfield used his own face and figure to portray a youth in Grecian costume examining a rose he holds in his hand. The figure is shown sitting below one of the massive oaks on the artist’s property, flanked by two plaster lions the artist had moulded in his studio.  The depiction harks back to the 1805 poem by the Irish poet, Thomas Moore:

‘Tis the last rose of summer,

Left blooming alone;

All her lovely companions

Are faded and gone;

No flower of her kindred,

No rose-bud is nigh,

To reflect back her blushes

Or give sigh for sigh!

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one.

To pine on the stem;

Since the lovely are sleeping,

Go, sleep thou with them;

Thus kindly I scatter

Thy leaves o’er the bed,

Where thy mates of the garden

Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,

When friendships decay,

And from love’s shining circle

The gems drop away!

When true hearts lie wither’d,

And fond ones are flown,

Oh! who would inhabit

This bleak world alone?

………………..to be continued.

Alphonse Mucha. Part 2

             Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Paris (World’s Fair) 1900

The year 1900 was a momentous one for Paris as it staged the Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Paris (World’s Fair) between April 15th and November 12th.    The event was to be a grand celebration of the past century’s achievements and a look forward to the innovations of the new century.  The planning had begun in 1892 and it had been fully budgeted by 1896.  At this time Alphonse Mucha had already burst on to the Parisian art scene and in 1897 had held a highly successful one-man exhibition at the Galerie de la Bodinière followed by a major show at the Salon des Cent.

Everyone was excited by the forthcoming event and La Plume magazine, a French bi-monthly literary and artistic review, dedicated a special issue to the exhibition and Alphonse Mucha, whose illustration appeared on the cover of the January 1898 edition, and was a ‘hot’ topic within the city’s artistic circle.

Alphonse Mucha’s design for the Menu for the Bosnian Pavilion Restaurant at the Paris Exhibition 1900

Alphonse was inundated with commissions for projects appertaining to the World’s Fair from both local companies and the French government.  Some were for posters advertising the event and also the installation of display stands and the design of exhibition halls, which provided him with an opportunity to work with a three-dimensional space.

Bosnia & Herzegovina Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition 1900 interior view with Mucha’s wall paintings (1900)

Beside the peripheral commissions Mucha was tasked with painting the murals for the Pavilion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was a region that had come under the control of Austria-Hungary in 1878 and was one of three pavilions exhibited by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For Alphonse Mucha, this was a highly prestigious commission.  Mucha transformed the pavilion into a commemoration of the history and the cultural diversity of Bosnia and Herzegovina which pleased the Austro-Hungarian leaders but Mucha would rather have highlighted the Slavic struggle against that vast nation.  He could well have thought about that as he planned the murals for the pavilion and maybe he promised himself that in the near future he would tell the real story of the persecution and suffering of the Slav nation and the Slav people.  His grand plan would not start until 1911 and it would take him fifteen years to complete.  It would be known as The Slav Epic

                    Facade of the jeweler’s boutique Georges Fouquet located at 6 rue Royale, Paris

Georges Fouquet, a prominent Parisian jeweller and jewellery designer had worked together with Alphonse Mucha on a number of jewellery pieces for Fouquet’s stand at the 1900 Exposition Universelle. After the 1900 Paris Exposition, Georges Fouquet who was best known for his Art Nouveau creations opened a new jewellery store at 6 rue Royale in Paris which was right across the street from the famous restaurant, Maxim’s. He approached Mucha to design all aspects of his shop, both exterior and interior, as well as the contents including the furniture, light fittings and show cases.  

                    Interior of Georges Fouquet’s shop designed by Alphonse Mucha

The centrepiece of the design was two peacocks, which were the traditional symbol of opulence.  They were made of bronze and wood with coloured glass decoration. To one side of them was a shell-shaped fountain, with three gargoyles spouting water into basins, surrounding the statue of a nude woman. The shop opened in 1901, but, sadly for Georges, it was at a time when tastes were beginning to change, and the yearning to have Art Nouveau pieces was superseded by people wanting jewellery with more naturalistic patterns.  Mucha’s shop designs remained in place until 1923 when it was replaced with more up-to-date fittings. 

                                                      Interior of Georges Fouquet’s Paris jewellery store

Realising that Mucha’s designs for the shop’s interior were of importance in art history, most of the original decoration were preserved. In 1941 Fouquet gave each piece of Mucha’s revolutionary design to the Musée Carnavalet for safekeeping. In 1989 the Musée Carnavalet completed the painstaking job of reconstructing the boutique. It remains one of the most spectacular examples of Art Nouveau decorative design.  It is still on display at the museum.

                                             Documents Decoratifs by Alphonse Mucha published in 1902

Alphonse Mucha’s reputation as an artist was now established and he became one of the most popular and successful of Parisian artists.  He became inundated with commissions for theatre posters, advertising posters, decorative panels, magazine covers, menus, postcards, calendars. He even started to provide designs for jewellery, cutlery, tableware, fabrics etc which were in so much demand that he conceived the idea of creating a handbook for craftsmen, which would offer all the necessary patterns for creating an Art Nouveau lifestyle.  His book, Documents Décoratifs, a style book published in Paris in 1902, was by the Librairie Central des Beaux-Arts, and is an encyclopaedia of his decorative work. The Documents Décoratifs is comprised of 72 exquisite plates of elaborate designs for brooches and other pieces, with swirling arabesques and vegetal forms, with incrustations of enamel and coloured stones.  It epitomized everything the Art Deco movement is remembered for: decor, women, flowers, natural forms, structures, jewellery.  Alphonse also spent an increasing amount of his time teaching, first at the Académie Colarossi and later, with Whistler, at the Académie Carmen.

                                Portrait of Mucha’s Wife, Maruska (1908)

In 1902, Alfonse Mucha accompanied his friend Auguste Rodin to Prague on the occasion of Rodin’s exhibition at Jan Kotera’s new Mánes Pavilion in Prague.  A gala night was held at the National Theatre of Prague to welcome the renowned sculptor and it was here that Alphonse Mucha first met Marie Chytilová, an aspiring artist, who was studying at the School of Applied Arts in Prague and who admired the work of Mucha.

Marie Chytilová in Mucha’s studio in rue du Val-de-Grâce, Paris. 1903

A year later whilst visiting Paris with her family, Marie solicited the help of her uncle, the eminent Czech art historian Dr. Karel Chytil, to arrange art classes with Mucha.  Alphonse agreed and got Maria to also to take classes at the Académie Calarossi where he was teaching and they spent each of the remaining days of her month-long sojourn together.  Love blossomed between the two despite an age difference of twenty-two years.  However, despite the intense amour between Alphonse and Marie, he left her in Europe whilst he made his first trip to America thanks to letters of introduction, which he had received from Baroness Salomon de Rothschild.  There must have been some great pull which made him abandon Marie and cross the Atlantic, and to find that reason we must go back to when he was painting his murals at the Paris World Fair for the Bosnia-Herzegovina pavilion and his promise to himself that he would one day complete a series of paintings which would illustrate the Slav fight for independence.  He needed financial backing and where better to go to find funds – America.

                                                                          Charles Richard Crane in 1909

Alphonse Mucha was by no means an unknown artist in America.  In fact, he was a celebrity in the United States as his posters had been widely displayed during Sarah Bernhardt’s annual American tours since 1896. He stayed at a rented studio near Central Park and continued to paint as well as giving interviews and lectures. More importantly, he was able to contact Pan-Slavic organizations with regards to his money-raising idea to support his proposed Slavic Saga series of history paintings. At one of the Pan-Slavic banquets held in his honour he was introduced to Charles Richard Crane, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, who was a passionate Slavophile. Crane was enthusiastic with Mucha’s vision for a series of monumental paintings depicting Slavic history, and he became Mucha’s most important patron. 

Cours Mucha poster at Académie Colarossi

Alphonse returned home to Paris in May 1904, to complete some commissions but in January 1905 he returned to America.  During this visit he gives classes, known as the cours Mucha, at the New York School of Applied Design for Women, similar to those he held at Académie Colarossi.  He was enjoying life in America and wrote to his folks back in Moravia:

“…You must have been very surprised by my decision to come to America, perhaps even amazed. But in fact, I had been preparing to come here for some time. It had become clear to me that that I would never have time to do the things I wanted to do if I did not get away from the treadmill of Paris, I would be constantly bound to publishers and their whims…in America, I don’t expect to find wealth, comfort, or fame for myself, only the opportunity to do some more useful work…”

        Alphonse and Marie on their wedding day, June 10th 1906.

On June 10th 1906, forty-five-year-old Alphonse Mucha, and twenty-three-year-old Marie Chytilová married shortly after his return to Prague from New York.  Marie was everything Alphonse could have wanted.  She was extremely attractive, she was well-educated and well-read, musical, a great lover of art, and from an old Czech family. 

                                                                               Husband and wife

She was to become his muse and was incredibly supportive of his art.  For their honeymoon, the couple travelled to the highlands of South Bohemia and stayed in the small village of Pec.  Once the honeymoon was over the couple travelled to Chicago where Alphonse was given a post as teacher at the Art Institute

                                    Portrait of Maruška, the artist’s wife by Alphonse Mucha (1905)

Alphonse painted a number of portraits of his wife.  One such painting was entitled Portrait of Mucha’s wife, Maruška.   Maruška is a diminutive of ‘Marie’.

Tragedy – study for a mural for the German theatre New York (1908)

In 1908 Alphonse also worked on a large decoration project, for the interior of the German Theatre of New York.  He was commissioned to produce five large decorative panels, the stage curtain, and decorative elements for the foyer, the corridor, the staircase, and the auditorium. The three large allegorical murals would be depicted in the Art Nouveau style, and would represent Tragedy, Comedy and Truth.  In his depiction, Tragedy, the female protagonist is modelled on the lead tragedienne of the Max Reinhardt Theatre, Miss Reichl.

                                              Painting of Josephine Crane Bradley as Slavia (1908)

In that same year, 1908, Charles Crane commissioned Mucha to make two separate portraits in a traditional Slavic style of his two daughters, Josephine, and Frances.  The painting of Josephine, as the Slav goddess, Slavia, was to mark her marriage to Harold C. Bradley.   The portrait was to be incorporated into the interior decoration of a new house that Crane was building for the newlyweds.   It was looked upon by critics as his finest work in America.

   Alphonse Mucha-designed artwork on a 1920 Czechoslovak Republic 100 Czechoslovak korun note

In fact, ten years later, when Mucha was asked to design the Czechoslovak 100-koruna banknote he once again used her portrait as a model for Slavia.

       Mucha’s daughter Jaroslava is born on March 15th 1909 in New York.

On March 15th 1909, in New York, Alphonse and Marie hade their first child, a daughter, Jaroslava

Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orleans)

That same year (1909) Alphonse was commissioned to design a poster depicting the highly paid prominent American actress, Maude Adams, in her role as Joan of Arc in a translation of Friedrich Schiller’s Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orleans).  The play was staged on June 22nd for a crowd of around two thousand spectators in a one-night gala performance at Harvard University Stadium.  The portrait served as a poster for the event and Alphonse was also responsible for designing the costumes and sets.  The painting depicts the medieval heroine, Joan of Arc, gesturing in amazement at the apparition behind her, which was inspiring her to lead French troops into battle. The stylized floral patterns, swirling hair and garments, and flat, graphic quality of the composition was typical of Mucha’s work and he also designed the complementary frame.

                                      Zbiroh Castle with the town of Zbiroh in the left background.

In 1909 Alphonse Mucha leaves America satisfied that he had Charles Crane’s financial backing for his grand plan to paint a series of works outlining the Slav struggles.   Alphonse rented a studio and apartment in Zbiroh Castle, a 12th century château in West Bohemia. He began by visiting the places he intended to depict in the cycle such as Russia, Poland, and the Balkans, including visits to the Orthodox monasteries of Mount Athos.   He now spent all his free time studying all the books he could find with regards the history of the Slavs and also contacted specialists in the field, such as Ernest Denis who Alfonse meets in Paris in 1911.  Ernest Denis was considered to be one of the most highly regarded 20th-century historians of the Slav world in France and who played a major role in the establishment of the Czechoslovak state in 1918.  Alphonse’s dream of the Slav Saga series of paintings had now started.  For anybody who might look upon Alphonse Mucha as an illustrator and a poster designer, the next three blogs will change that opinion…………………

………………………….to be continued.


Much of the information for this came from the excellent website The Mucha Foundation

 

Alphonse Mucha. Part 1

                              Alphonse Mucha in his Paris studio on Rue de Val de Grace (c. 1899)

The artist I am looking at today is a Czech painter, illustrator, and graphic artist, who spent the first part of his artistic life living in Paris during the Art Nouveau period and where he became best known for his stylized and decorative theatrical and advertising posters.  This was all to change when, at the age of 43, he returned to his homeland of the Bohemia-Moravia region in Austria where he dedicated himself to completing a series of twenty monumental paintings, known as The Slav Epic, which pictorially portrayed the history of the Slavic people.  I will talk about that great series in the later blogs but for today let me tell you about the early life of Alphonse Marie Mucha and his wonderful illustrative work.

Alphonse Maria Mucha was born on July 24th 1860 in the small town of Ivančice in the southern Moravia region,  which is now the Czech Republic, but then was a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  His father Ondřej Mucha was an usher at the Ivančice courthouse and his mother Amálie was the daughter of a miller.  Alphonse was the eldest of five children.  He had three sisters, Anna, Andéla and Antoine and one brother, August.  He also had two stepsisters from his father’s first marriage.  Alphonse was gifted musically.  He was an alto singer and also a talented violinist.  He also enjoyed drawing.

                                                          Crucifixion by Alphonse Mucha (1868)

One of his earliest works is entitled Crucifixion which he completed around the age of eight.   It can be seen from the depiction that the young boy was influenced by the Catholic Church and its teachings.  As a young boy he was inspired by the Catholic rituals and later in life he recalled attending church for the Easter celebrations:

“…I used to kneel for hours as an acolyte in front of Christ’s grave. It was in a dark alcove covered with flowers heavy with intoxicating fragrance and wax candles were burning quietly all round with a sort of sacred light which illuminated from below the martyred body of Christ, life-size, hanging from the wall in utmost sadness… How I loved to kneel there with my hands clasped in prayer. No-one in front of me, only the wooden Christ hanging from the wall, no-one who would see me shutting my eyes and thinking of God-knows-what and imagining that I am kneeling on the edge of a mysterious unknown figure…”

                             Choirboys at Gymnázium Slovanské in Brno by Alphonse Mucha (1872)

 After primary school he was to move into secondary schooling but this had to be paid for and his parents just did not have the funds as they were already paying for the education of his two stepsisters.  However, as he was such a good musician his music teacher arranged for him to meet to Pavel Křížkovský, the choirmaster of St Thomas’s Abbey in Brno, who was impressed with Alphonse.  Alphonse’s family had hoped that through Křížkovský, their son would be able to become a member of the choir and with this would come a monastery scholarship which would pay for his secondary education.  Unfortunately for Alphonse, Křížkovský was not able to admit him and get him funding as he had already attained sponsorship for another musician.  However, Křížkovský arranged for twelve-year-old Alphonse to be interviewed by the deputy choirmaster of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul,  Leoš Janáček, who admitted him as a cathedral chorister and funded his studies as a boarder at the Gymnázium Slovanské, the high school in Brno.  Alas, nature took its course and eventually the teenager’s voice broke and he had to leave the choir but instead played the violin during the church services.

Although it was due to his musical talents that Alphonse was able to complete his schooling he still believed in a possible artistic future and he set about gaining employment as a theatrical scene designer.  The next step for him was to gain some formal artistic tuition and so, in 1878, aged eighteen, he applied to enrol on a course at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, but was rejected.   They harshly advised him to follow a different career path.  In 1880, aged 19, he travelled to Vienna, which at the time was looked upon as the political and cultural capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Here Alphonse was taken on as an apprentice scenery painter for the Kautsky-Brioschi-Burghardt painting workshop, which produced stage scenery and theatre curtains, a company which made sets for Vienna theatres.   Vienna to Alphonse was like a breath of fresh air and he enrolled at some of the city’s art classes..

                                                                  Hans Makart, Self-portrait, (1878)

Now living in this large city, Alphonse was able to visit art galleries and theatres, tickets to which were given to him by his employer.  During his visit to the galleries, he came across the works of Hans Makart, the renowned 19th-century Austrian academic history painter, designer, decorator, who was famed for his monumental works of portraiture. Like many artists in the late nineteenth century, Alphonse began to experiment with photography as an aid to his artwork.  

                             The fire catastrophe at the Ring Theatre in Vienna (December 8th 1881)

In 1881, just a year after he arrived in Vienna, fate once again stepped into Alphonse Mucha’s life when a fire destroyed the Ring Theatre, which was the main customer of the firm he worked for.  Within the series of theatre fires in the 19th century, the catastrophe at the Ring Theatre in Vienna was the worst because of at least 450 fatalities. There are several crucial points, which led to a disaster in this extent: The fire was not reported immediately, the people in the theatre were not informed in time, the emergency lighting was not working, the architectural structure of the building made the way out long and complicated, and the theatre staff was unable to cope with this case of emergency. 

                          Decorative murals at the Hrušovany Emmahof Castle

Alphonse was now made redundant and had to decide whether to remain in Vienna or head back home to Ivančice.  In the end, he did neither but took a train through Austria and into Moravia.  By the time he arrived at Mikulov in southern Moravia his money had run out and he had to alight from the train.  He needed somewhere to stay in the town but had no money.  Fortunately, he was able to “pay” for his board and lodgings by sketching some portraits.  His portraiture was seen by Count Eduard Khuen-Belasi, the local landowner and he was so impressed by the standard of Alphonse’s work that he commissioned him to paint murals for his Hrušovany Emmahof Castle near Hrušovany nad Jeviškou and his Gandegg Castle in the Tyrol, as well as reconstructing the Castle’s portraits and the decorative murals.  So amazed with Alphonse’s work, the Count decided to sponsor Alphonse’s formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts for two years.  Following the completion of his studies in 1887 the Count arranged for Alphonse to go and study in Paris at Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi.

                                         Portraits of Saints Cyril and Methodius                                                    St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pisek, USA by Alphonse Mucha (1887)

The Count funded Mucha’s  expenses until the end of 1889 at which time the flow of money stopped and it is thought that the Count wanted Alphonse to become independent and survive by his work alone.  It was a blow to Alphonse who had for the last three years, no financial worries.  He now had to balance his income against expenditure and learnt to survive on a diet of lentils and beans and began to eke out a living by providing illustrations for a variety of magazines and books.  However, his hard work paid off and he was soon able to establish himself as a successful and reliable illustrator.

Sarah Bernhardt as Gismonda poster by Alphonse Mucha

Was it sheer luck, or fate once again, that on December 26th 1894 Alphonse happened to be at Lemercier’s printing works, when Sarah Bernhardt, the star of the Parisian stage, called de Brunhoff, the printer’s agent, with an immediate demand for a new poster for her production of Gismonda.  Unfortunately for Lemercier all his regular artists were on holiday and so in an act of desperation he approached Alphonse to produce the poster.  The poster was of a long narrow format (216 x 74cms) and the subtle pastel colours and the ‘halo’ effect around the subject’s head were to remain features of Mucha’s posters throughout his life.  It was a depiction which oozed both grandeur and solemnity and was in stark contrast to other garish street posters of the time.  This Art Nouveau advertising poster was for the four-act comedy, Gismonda, by Victorien Sardou, which was being staged at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris. Sarah Bernhardt was both director and actor. This poster by Mucha was produced to promote the new production which opened on January 4, 1895.  Mucha portrayed Bernardt as an exotic Byzantine noblewoman wearing a splendid dress and an orchid headdress with a palm branch in her hand. This costume was worn in the last act, the climax of the comedy, in which she joined the Easter procession.  The Gismonda poster which Alfonse Mucha created was a sensation and it was so popular with the Parisian public that collectors bribed bill stickers to obtain them or simply went out at night and, using razors, cut them down from the hoardings.  Bernhardt was delighted with Mucha’s work and continued to use this poster for her American tour in 1896.  She offered Mucha a five-year contract to produce stage and costume designs as well as posters.

Champagne Ruinart poster by Alphonse Mucha (1896)

This Champagne Ruinart poster is one of Mucha’s earliest commissions from the printer and lithographer Ferdinand Champenois and was included in the seminal Exposition d’Affiches Artistiques Françaises & Etrangères Moderns & Retrospectives held in Rheims in November 1896.

                                             JOB cigarette papers poster by Alphonse Mucha (1897)

Alphonse Mucha’s success with the Sarah Bernhardt posters precipitated in many more commissions for advertising posters. He designed posters such as the one for JOB cigarette papers…

Moët Chandon Crémant Impérial poster by Alphonse Mucha (1899)

…and for Moët-Chandon champagne.

                             Champenois poster by Alphonse Mucha

At the turn of the twentieth century, Alphonse Muhca continued to create posters for Ferdinand Champenois, who had his premises at 66 Boulvd. St. Michel, Paris.  He signed an exclusive contract with the company to produce commercial and decorative posters.  With Gismonda ‘le style Mucha’ was launched.  Mucha was established as the preeminent exponent of Parisian Art Nouveau.  This 1897 lithograph depicts a beautiful young girl in a sophisticated pink dress with red and blue embroidery. The girl wears pink and red flowers in her dark blonde hair and is surrounded by the heavy floral ornamentation and spirals characteristic of much of Alphonse Mucha’s work.  Over the next decade Mucha illustrated posters and decorative panels, books, magazine covers, advertisements, theatre programmes, menu cards, calendars, and postcards many using Champenois as his printer.

          Calendar illustration designed by Alphonse Mucha for La Plume

Alphonse also designed a calendar which featured a woman’s head around which were the twelve signs of the zodiac in a halo-like disc. The rights for the illustration were sold on to Léon Deschamps, the editor of the arts review La Plume, who brought it out with great success as the magazine’s calendar for 1897. This was Mucha’s first work under his contract with the printer Champenois and was originally designed as an in-house calendar for the company.  The majestic beauty of the woman is emphasised by her regal bearing and elaborate jewellery.  It became one of Mucha’s most popular designs; at least nine variants of this lithograph are known, including this one which was printed without text to serve as a decorative panel.  Between 1896 and 1904 Alphonse Mucha created over one hundred poster designs for Champenois. These prints were sold in various formats, ranging from expensive versions printed on Japanese paper or vellum, to less expensive versions which combined multiple images, to calendars and postcards.

                       Railroad poster advertising travel to Monaco and Monte-Carlo (1897)

His posters almost always depicted beautiful women in sumptuous settings with their hair generally curling in arabesque forms and filling the frame. In 1897 Alphonse produced a poster for the railway line between Paris and Monaco-Monte-Carlo but it neither showed a train nor any identifiable scene of Monaco or Monte-Carlo. It simply depicted a beautiful young woman in a dream-like pose, surrounded by whirling images of flowers, which implied the turning wheels of a train.

            Poster for Alphonse Mucha’s 1897 retrospective exhibition at the Salon des Cent

Alphone Mucha’s reputation as an illustrative artist grew and he was invited to exhibit his work in the Salon des Cent exhibition in 1896, and a year later he had a major retrospective in the same gallery exhibiting 448 works. The art magazine La Plume made a special edition devoted to his work, and his exhibition travelled to Vienna, Prague, Munich, Brussels, London, and New York, which boosted his international reputation.

                                  Jewelelry designs by Mucha in Documents Decoratifs (1901)

In 1899 Alphonse entered into a collaboration with the jeweller Georges Fouquet to make a bracelet for Sarah Bernhardt in the form of a serpent, made of gold and enamel, similar to the costume jewellery Bernhardt wore in Medea.

                               Cascade pendant designed by Alfons Mucha for Fouquet jewelers, (1900)

The Cascade pendant designed for Fouquet by Mucha in 1900 is in the shape of a waterfall.  It is composed of gold, enamel, opals, tiny diamonds, paillons, and a barocco or misshapen pearl.

………………………to be continued


Much of the information for this came from the excellent website The Mucha Foundation

Frederick Childe Hassam – The American Impressionist.

Frederick Childe Hassam

Today I am looking at the life of the nineteenth century American painter, and an important illustrator during the “golden age” of American illustration in the 1880s and 1890s.  He was a leading American Impressionist, although he baulked at that “title”.   Let me introduce you to Frederick Childe Hassam.

Self portrait

Frederick Childe Hassam was born on October 17th 1859 in the family home on Olney Street on Meeting House Hill, Dorchester, the upper middle-class suburb of Boston.  He was the son of Frederick Fitch Hassam and Rosa Delia Hassam (née Hawthorne) who hailed from Maine.  His father, a Boston merchant and hardware store owner, collected Americana well before this hobby became a popular pastime and he passed this interest in history along to his son.  Hassam was educated at Dorchester’s Meeting House Hill School and Dorchester High School, where he studied French, German, Latin and Greek while playing several sports.  Childe had his first lessons in drawing and watercolour whilst a pupil at the Mather public school in Dorchester, although his parents showed little interest in his art.

The Evening Star, by Childe Hassam, pastel on tan paper, (1891)

The family’s fortunes changed dramatically on November 9th 1872 with the sudden outbreak of fire in the basement of a commercial warehouse in the city.  The fire burnt for twelve hours and in that time had destroyed 65 acres of Boston’s downtown, 776 buildings and much of the financial district, including Childe Hassam’s father’s business.  For financial reasons, Childe had to drop out of high school without qualifying, and get a job, so as to help his family in their time of dwindling finances.  His father arranged for his son to work in the accounting department of publisher Little Brown & Company, but his lack of ability to work with figures soon ended that career.  Childe had talked to his parents about his love of painting and sketching and eventually persuaded his father to allow him to take up an artistic career.   Childe Hassam managed to secure a position as an apprentice wood engraver with George Johnson.  In a short time, Childe had proved himself to be an accomplished draughtsman producing designs for commercial engravings such as images for letterheads and newspapers.

A Back Road, by Childe Hassam, (1884)

It was around 1879 that Hassam began painting in oil but his favourite medium was watercolours.  Childe Hassam’s initial formal art studies began in 1878 when he joined the Boston Art Club.  The institution was founded in 1854 by local artists in order to instigate a democratic organization where there would be a collaboration in the promotion, selling and education of art.  From there he enrolled at the Lowell Institute in Boston which ran classes in freehand practical design.

Old House, Nantucket by Childe Hassam (1882)

In 1882, Childe Hassam took part in his first public group exhibition at the Boston Art Club.  Other artists at the Boston Art Club, at that time were nationally prominent painters such as William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, Winslow Homer, Maurice Prendergast, and John Singer Sargent.  Following his success at this exhibition Childe Hassam submitted some of his watercolour paintings for his first solo exhibition held at the William & Everett Gallery in Boston.

Childe Hassam illustration for St Nicholas Children’s magazine

In 1882, Hassam became a freelance illustrator and founded his first studio. His illustration forte was his illustration of children’s stories for magazines such as Harper’s Weekly, Scribner’s Monthly magazine, and The Century. He continued to develop his technique while he attended the drawing classes at the Lowell Institute, which was a division of MIT, and at the Boston Art Club, where he took life painting classes. 

New signature

The following year, his friend Celia Thaxter convinced him to drop his first name, Frederick, and thereafter he was known simply as “Childe Hassam”. He also began to add a crescent symbol in front of his signature.

Gate of the Alhambra by Childe Hassam (1883)

Because of his formal art training was limited he was advised that he should travel to Europe and enhance his artistic knowledge.  The advice came from fellow Boston Art Club member, Edmund Henry Garrett, an American illustrator, bookplate-maker, and author as well as a highly respected painter, who was renowned for his illustrations of the legends of King Arthur.  Garrett persuaded Hassam to accompany him to Europe in the summer of 1883.  The two travelled extensively through Great Britain, The Netherlands, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain and during their journey they would study the Old Masters at various museums and create watercolours of the various European landscapes.  While in Paris he was very much influenced by the painterly brushstrokes and pure colours of the Impressionists and it was noticeable that around this time his palette brightened and he discovered a love for depicting city subjects which would stay with him all his life.  In all, Childe Hassam completed sixty-seven watercolours and these were exhibited at his second one-man exhibition in 1884.

Maude Sewing by Childe Hassam (1883)

After a long courtship, Hassam married Montreal-born Kathleen Maude Doan in February 1884 and during their lifetime together, she organised the Hassam household, arranged all her husband’s travel itineraries and looked after the other domestic tasks. She featured in a number of his paintings including his 1888 work, Geraniums, which he presented at the Salon exhibition that year.

Paris Scene by Childe Hassam (1887)

During the early 1880s, the couple lived in Boston, and Hassam became one of a small number of American artists to paint watercolours of urban street scenes.  Although he believed that his paintings had improved, he decided to return to Paris and seek further artistic tuition.  In 1886 he and Maud arrived at the French capital for the start of their three year stay and Hassam attended classes at the Académie Julian, where he studied under the influential instructors Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre.   To make ends meet Hassam would send his oil and watercolour painting back to Boston to be sold.  The money he received for them was enough for he and Maud to afford to stay in Paris. During his time in Europe, he continued to prefer mundane street and horse scenes, shunning some of the other depictions favoured by the Impressionists, such as opera, cabaret, theatre, and boating. 

Le Jour de Grand Prix Day by Childe Hassam (1887)

In 1887 he completed his painting Le Jour de Grand Prix Day which now hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Whereas he normally painted using a darker more tonal palette, in this work he used light colours to encapsulate the impression of a bright sunny day.  The setting was the journey to Longchamp in the Bois de Boulogne and the Grand Prix de Paris horse race which was held annually in June at the Longchamp track.  The affluent racegoers bedecked in their finery can be seen riding atop the horse-driven coaches which travel along the tree-lined avenue Bois de Boulogne, which is now Avenue Foch.  In the top left of the painting we catch a glimpse of Arc de Triomphe.  A slightly larger version of the painting, which is in the New Britain Museum of American Art collection, was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1888.  Of the painting Childe Hassam said;

“…I am painting sunlight. . . a ‘four in hand’ and the crowds of fiacres filled with the well-dressed women who go to the ‘Grand Prix…”

Geraniums by Childe Hassam (1888)

He also liked to paint garden and “flower girl” scenes, some of which included a depiction of his wife, Maude, an example of which is his 1889 painting entitled Geraniums which he presented at the Salon exhibition that year. During his three-year stay in the French capital he managed to exhibit at all three Salon exhibitions.

Fifth Avenue Winter by Childe Hassam (1915)

The couple returned to America in 1889 and went to live in a New York City studio apartment a studio apartment at Fifth Avenue and Seventeenth Street.  Hassam began making paintings and etchings of New York city. Hassam saw the city as a place of similar beauty and excitement to Paris especially in the fashionable neighbourhoods along Fifth Avenue and at Washington Square.  It was from this apartment window that Hassam painted the view outside.  His 1915 painting entitled Fifth Avenue Winter depicts the bustling Manhattan thoroughfare which was quickly becoming a popular shopping district around the time he made this work. His composition features flecks of colour and blurred forms to depict reflected light and rapid movement. The accelerated pace of modern city life is evoked by the depiction of the street full of streaming traffic, including two green double-decker buses at lower right.  The fashionable street was the route taken at that time by horse-drawn carriages and trolley buses. It was one of his favourite paintings and he exhibited it several times. The work now hangs in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Fifth Avenue in Winter by Childe Hassam (c.1892)

Around 1892, Hassam painted a view of the busy thoroughfare in Winter.  The work entitled Fifth Avenue in Winter now hangs at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art

End of the Trolley Line, Oak Park, Illinois by Frederick Childe Hassam (c 1893),

Childe Hassam and his wife lived in New York for the rest of their lives.  He would work on his illustrations in his studio and when, weather permitting, he would go out and paint landscapes en plein air.  Not long after settling in the city, Childe Hassam became involved in the setting up of The New York Watercolour Club in 1890 and became its first president.  The organisation, unlike the American Watercolor Society, accepted both men and women into its ranks and the Club’s first exhibition was held that year.  The organisation’s exhibitions were jury-selected affairs and thus the standard of the works on show was much higher than other artistic societies.  The New York Watercolor Club’s exhibitions were held in the building which was constructed as the result of the founding of the American Fine Arts Society at 215 West 57th Street in 1889. Other art organizations headquartered in the building were the American Federation of Arts, American Watercolor Society, Artists’ Aid Society, Mural Painters, and the Art Students League of New York. Its galleries also held National Academy of Design, Architectural exhibitions.

Washington Arch, Spring by Childe Hassam. (1893)

Hassam’s painting Washington Arch, Spring which he completed in 1893 is an example of why he was termed an Impressionist and also highlights his love of cityscapes and ones which depict the hustle and bustle of life on  the tree-lined avenue settings which were often seen in French Impressionist paintings.  The marble Roman triumphal arch is situated in Washington Square Park, in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of Lower Manhattan, New York City.  The depiction of the Stanford White designed arch reminded Hassam’s of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Hassam lived just north of the Square, and so he was able to watch the various stages of its construction, transitioning from first a temporary wood and plaster structure, to the eventual beautiful marble structure which was completed in 1892. The depiction is unusual in a way as the Arch which is at the end of Fifth Avenue is partially blocked by trees.  In the work, Hassam included several pedestrians along with a street cleaner and a horse-drawn carriage.

Celia Thaxter’s Garden, Isles of Shoals, Maine by Childe Hassam (1890)

At the beginning of the 1890’s Childe Hassam focused a number of his paintings with floral depictions and many were set in the gardens of his friend, the New England poet, Celia Laighton Thaxter who lived with her father at his Appledore Hotel on the Isles of Shoals, a group of small islands and tidal ledges situated approximately 6 miles off the east coast of the United States, straddling the border of the states of Maine and New Hampshire.  He painted images from Appledore Island.  He said that he found the rocks and the sea are the few things that do not change and that they are wonderfully beautiful.

Coast Scene, Isles of Shoals by Childe Hassam (1901)

Among them is the 1901 view Coast Scene, Isles of Shoals, the first painting by Childe Hassam to enter the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.  The oil painting is done in luminous colours, and depicts the remote Isles of Shoals off the rocky shoreline of New England, which was a favourite haunt of Childe Hassam at the end of the 19th century and where he painted a series of similar coastal scenes.  Childe Hassam liked to journey out of the city and he loved to visit places such as Newport, Portsmouth, Old Lyme, Gloucester, and other New England and this urge to free himself from the bustling city made him decide to buy a summer residence.

Old House, East Hampton, L.I. by Childe Hassam (1919)

Childe and Maude Hassam first visited East Hampton in 1898 at the invitation of his friend and fellow artist Gaines Ruger Donoho. During the next two decades the couple returned to Long Island during the spring and autumn as the guest of New York businessman Henry Pomroy. In 1919, Hassam and his wife Maude purchased Willow Bend, an eighteenth-century shingled cottage at 48 Egypt Lane. The house was sold to the Hassams by Donoho’s widow who lived next door. Childe Hassam moved into “Willow Bend” in May of 1920 and remained in the house until that October. This became their annual routine which they would maintain for the rest of his life.  While in East Hampton, Hassam sought inspiration from his surroundings and found beauty in the local architecture, the uneven coastline, and the wild landscape of eastern Long Island. During his six month stays in East Hampton, Hassam produced a series of works that focused on his home and its surrounding landscape.  Though Hassam rejected being associated with French Impressionists, there is an obvious influence seen in his painting Old House, East Hampton, a typical East Hampton clapboard home, with its rich colours and quick brushstrokes.

Just Off the Avenue Fifty Third Street, May 1916 by Childe Hassam (1916)

Hassam’s interest in flag subjects dates back to his time spent in Paris from 1886 to 1889. Inspired by the flags and banners displayed on Bastille Day in the area where he lived.   Just Off the Avenue, Fifty-third Street, May 1916 is the first work in the flag series that Hassam painted during the First World War. The sun-dappled street, trees and façades of the grand brownstones are painted in a vibrant palette characteristic of Hassam’s technique at the height of his abilities. In the work. We see a refined residential street in New York, a favoured subject of the artist.  Hassam depicts decorations for the patriotic parade that took place along Fifth Avenue and he has immersed the viewer in an atmosphere of nationalistic pride.

Allies Day, May by Childe Hassam (1917)

During the First World War Childe Hassam created his famous images of flags of the United States and its allies which some scholars have characterized as Hassam’s contribution to the war effort.  One such painting was his 1917 work entitled Allies Day, May.

October Sundown, Newport by Childe Hassam (1901)

In 1920 Hassam received what he deemed to be the greatest honour of his career when he was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters.  The Academy is an honour society of the country’s 250 leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Each year it elects new members as vacancies occur.  When Childe Hassam died, he bequeathed several hundred artworks to the Academy.

Frederick Childe Hassam died in East Hampton, Long Island on August 27th 1935, aged 75.  His wife Maude passed away eleven years later on October 13th 1946.  She was 84.  

The Red Rose Girls. Part 5. The latter years.

Front cover illustration of The Ladies Home Journal by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Jessie Willcox Smith rented a small studio space at 1334 Chestnut Street, in downtown Philadelphia.  The studio, although cramped and barely room enough for one artist, was in an ideal place for Jessie, as it was close to her job at Ladies Home Journal.

Violet Oakley and her family had returned from their European travels and relocated to Philadelphia to seek medical treatment for her father, Arthur Oakley.  She and her sister Hester rented a studio further down the street at number 1523, in the Love Building.   It was a three-room skylight space on the third floor.   It was a much larger space in comparison that of Jessie’s studio apartment.  The sisters managed to spruce up the space by furnishing it with items lent to them by their mother.  The walls of the studio were covered with prints of paintings by the Old Masters.  Hester Oakley, who was not particularly interested in art was concentrating on her writing and did not need a spacious studio and so vacated the premises, leaving her sister to find new tenants.  Eventually Hester’s place was taken up by Elizabeth Shippen Green, Jessie Willcox Smith, and Jessie Dodd, all fellow students of Violet at the Drexler Institute.

Living together, the ladies soon began working together on commissions.   Jessie Smith and Violet Oakley, with Howard Pyle acting as their mentor, began work on illustrations for a new edition of Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie, an epic poem by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which was first published in 1847.  The epic poem describes the betrothal of a fictional Acadian girl named Evangeline Bellefontaine to her beloved, Gabriel Lajeunesse.  The story tells of how the lovers are separated when the British deported the Acadians from Acadie in the Great Upheaval. The poem then follows Evangeline journey across America as she spends years in a search for him. Finally, Evangeline settles in Philadelphia and, as an old woman, works as a Sister of Mercy among the poor. While tending the dying during an epidemic she finds Gabriel among the sick, and he dies in her arms.  The commission was completed and the book was published in 1897.   Howard Pyle was delighted with the finished illustrations by Jessie and Violet saying:

“…There is a singular delight in beholding the lucid thoughts of a pupil growing into form and colour; the teacher enjoys a singular pleasure in beholding his instruction growing into definite shape.  Nevertheless, I venture to think that the drawings possess both grace and beauty…”

Illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith for Maud Goodwin’s book The Head of the Hundred.

The illustrations that Smith and Oakley did for the book were a great success and this resulted in a number of new commissions including a commission for Jessie Smith to provide illustrations for a romantic novel, The Head of a Hundred by Maud Wilder Goodwin which was first published in 1897.  Violet Oakley meanwhile provided illustrative covers for The Century magazine and Collier’s Illustrated Weekly

The three women became part of Philadelphia’s vibrant artistic community and became founder members of The Plastic Club.   The art educator Emily Sartain founded the Plastic Club. Its raison d’être was as an arts organization for women to promote collaboration and exhibit members’ works.  It was partly in response to the Philadelphia Sketch Club, which was an exclusively male arts club.

Photograph shows Green, Oakley, and Smith seated, each holding a rose, while Cozens holds a watering can over their heads, pretending to water them. Handwritten identification on verso: The Red Roses; Elizabeth Shippen Green, Violet Oakley, Jessie Willcox Smith, Henrietta Cozens; with Violet Oakley’s poster in the background for first exhibition at the Plastic Club.  Photograph taken at 1523 Chestnut Street, when they planned to move to “The Red Rose”, Villanova.

Jessie Dodd finally left the shared apartment as she was struggling to gain commissions, unlike the other three women.  She became very despondent and in 1899 she gave up artistic career and returned home to Ohio leaving just Violet Oakley, Jessie Wilcox Smith, and Elizabeth Shippen Green living at the Love Building.  The relationship between the three ladies was what was termed a “sympathetic companionship” but in fact was what we would now term a romantic friendship.  There was nothing scandalous about their relationship as in nineteenth century America romantic friendships was deemed a normal part of a woman’s life. The three women were very supportive of each other and shared their triumphs and failures.  There came a time when they had to decide the course their future would take.  Howard Pyle had warned them that combining an artistic career with marriage was not a viable option in an age when a woman was expected to manage a household, function as a hostess and bear children and of course in the minds of Jessie, Violet and Elizabeth, the words of Howard Pyle were sacrosanct.  Jessie Smith was very definite about her views on this subject, saying:

“…A woman’s sphere is as sharply defined as a man’s.  If she elects to be a housewife and mother – that is her sphere and no other.  Circumstances may, but volition should not, lead her from it.  If on the other hand she elects to go into business or the arts, she must sacrifice motherhood in order to fill successfully her chosen sphere…”

Elizabeth Shippen Green ink on paper illustration, Climbing the Steps.

Jessie Smith and Elizabeth Green were both busy working for The Ladies’ Home Journal and were soon being inundated with commissions resulting in that they could leave their staff jobs and work on a freelance basis.  Elizabeth Shippen Green was submitting a number of pen-and-ink drawings many of which appeared on the covers of the St Nicholas and The Scholar’s Magazine as well as appearing alongside short stories published in Curtis Publishing Company’s Saturday Evening Post.  One of the latter was reproduced in a volume published in London under the title:  The Studio’s 1900-1901 Modern Pen Drawings: European and American.  Her drawings featured in the volume alongside works by the renowned illustrators of the time, Edwin Austin Abbey, Maxwell Parrish, and her teacher Howard Pyle.  The editor, Charles Holme, wrote:

“…Miss Elizabeth Shippen Green though a newcomer, draws with force and has a nice regard for the decorative effect of lines and black masses…”

Madonna and Magi sketch for stained glass panel, by Violet Oakley (1902)

In 1900 Violet Oakley received a commission to paint two murals and create five stained-glass windows and an altarpiece in mosaic for All Angels Church in New York’s Upper West Side. The year 1900 was both a happy and unhappy year for Violet Oakley.  Her sister Heather had married her long-time friend Stanley Ward in 1898 and in 1900 the couple had their first child.  Birth and death are mechanisms of population balance and 1n 1900 Violet’s father Arthur died after a long and debilitating illness.

The three artists remained at their studio on Chestnut Avenue and whilst the winters were tolerable the heat and humidity of New York in the summer months was oppressive so much so that during the summer of 1900 they rented apartments in the Low dormitory on the Bryn Mawr College campus.  Jessie and Elizabeth even won a commission to illustrate the 1901 calendar for the college.

The Red Rose Inn , Villanova, Pennsylvania

In the Autumn of 1900, at the end of their summer stay at Bryn Mawr college, the three friends first visited the Red Rose Inn which was situated in the Philadelphia suburb of Villanova.  The friends had spent many a happy hour leafing through the pages of England Country Life magazines and hankered for a country lifestyle.  Violet Oakley in her handwritten autobiography remembered the time.  She wrote:

“…We became enamoured of the idea of living in the midst of beauty and order of such Gardens as those of England:  of having a country estate; of escaping from work in city studios…”

 

Red Rose Studio

On one of their last days at the college campus they drove out to Villanova to see the Red Rose Inn.  The inn had been in the local news for many years as the owner, Frederick Phillips, was rumoured to be turning it into an artist’s colony and subdivide the eight hundred plus acres into a number of building lots.  Unfortunately for Phillips he was not the sole owner and his co-owning siblings baulked on his expensive plans to renovate and build on the land as were his near neighbours who christened his plans, Phillip’s Whim.  The die was cast when Frederick Phillips died and his siblings wanted to sell the property.  It was eventually sold to the American banker, Anthony J Drexel for $200,000. 

After a lot of legal wrangling the three artists managed to arrange to rent the Inn and, in the Spring of 1901, they gave in their notice terminating the lease on the 1523 Chestnut Street studio and moved out.  They moved into the Inn in the late Spring of 1901 and with them came another female, their friend, forty-three-year-old Henrietta Cozens.  Henrietta, the daughter of a cotton broker, was not an artist but her role was to be responsible for managing the property, overseeing all the domestic chores, and looking after the upkeep of the gardens.  The monthly outgoings for the three artists had suddenly increased from the mere $125 per month they paid to the landlord for their studio in the Love Building to $500 per month for the rent for the Rose Inn and the wages of the servants and cook.  An although the three artists subsidised Henrietta’s share of the costs it was a financially binding situation and one which needed the three artists to remain together and so once again, they vowed to remain together and never marry.  It was this new home of theirs that led to Howard Pyle calling them The Red Rose Girls.

Bryn Mawr College 1902 calendar – illustration by Elizabeth Shippen Green

In February 1902, the three artists were offered their own three-woman show.  It was an exhibition of a variety of their work. It comprised of their book illustrations and Jessie Wilcox Smith’s designs for the Bryn Mawr calendars.   Elizabeth Green showed her illustrations for Harper’s Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post as well as her calendar illustrations.  Violet Oakley’s offerings for the exhibition comprised of two covers she completed for Collier’s Weekly, some charcoal drawings and her designs for the All Angels’ stained-glass windows and chancel decorations.  The exhibition was a great success and was an important step in the careers of the three artists.

The 1914 advert illustrated by  Jessie Willcox Smith for Procter Gamble Ivory Soap.  

At the exhibition Jessie Wilcox Smith submitted thirty of her illustrations some of which were advertisements for Procter & Gamble.

All good things have to come to an end and their time at The Red Rose Inn ended on January 25th 1906 when the three women were served with an eviction notice:

“…Anthony J. Drexel having leased to you the premises in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, known as the Red Rose Inn, by lease the terms of which expire on May 1st 1906, subject to three months’ notice, and the said Anthony J Drexel and Margarita, his wife, having granted, assigned and conveyed to me the said premises, with the lease, you and each of you are hereby notified and required to quit and deliver up to me possessions of the said premises, which you now hold as tenant under me, at the expiration of the said lease, namely the first day of May A.D. 1906 as I desire to have such possession…

Signed Henry S Kerbaugh…”

Cogslea, photographed by Elizabeth Shippen Green in 1907

Thanks to the benevolence of Dr. George Woodward, a wealthy relative of Elizabeth Shippen Green, the three artists managed to rent a renovated stone-walled house, adjacent barn, and carriage house at Hill Farm, located on Woodward’s estate at Cresheim Creek in Mt. Airy, some ten miles north of Philadelphia.  The three women named their new home Cogslea (C for Henrietta Cozens, O for Violet Oakley, G for Elizabeth Green and S for Jessie Smith) and “lea” for the sloping land of the new estate.

Photograph of Huger Elliot posing for Elizabeth Shippen Green at Cogslea

In 1909, Elizabeth Green’s mother died and the following March, her father Jasper Green passed away.  More change was to come in 1910.  Elizabeth Shippen Green had built up a friendship for a couple of years with Huger Elliott, a graduate of Columbia University’s school of architecture and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.  He was looking for more than just a friendship with Elizabeth, albeit the couple had become engaged, but Elizabeth was hesitant about their future considering she had, along with her two friends, “signed a pledge” to keep men out of their lives and just live for their art.  In October 1910, Huger Elliot visited Elizabeth at Cogslea and gave her an ultimatum – marry me now or break off the engagement!  One can only imagine the state of Elizabeth’s mind at this turn of events.   She had to try and think rationally.  She was now thirty-nine years of age and been with her friends for thirteen years and a decision to marry Elliot would violate their “agreement”.  On the other hand, she knew her friends were financially secure and had been given numerous commissions.  She also realised that the dynamics of the household were changing.  Jessie Smith and Henrietta Cozens, who were close in age, were becoming inseparable and both had a quiet temperament and an unbending sense of decorum which was polar opposite to Elizabeth’s exuberance.  Her other friend and housemate, Violet Oakley, was engrossed in her religion and impassioned about her dream of a utopian society and her aspiration to elevate the morals of the country though her art.  Maybe the deciding factor was that Elizabeth more than just liked Huger.  She made the decision to marry Huger Elliot and leave Cogslea and her friends.  Violet, Jessie, and Henrietta were stunned by her decision., Henrietta Cozens declared:

“…How can she love anyone more than she loves us?…”

Elizabeth Shippen Green and Huger Elliot on their honeymoon in Germany  in 1911

The die was cast and On June 3rd 1911 Elizabeth Shippen Green married Huger Elliott at Cogslea.   The couple left Cogslea that evening and went to stay in Philadelphia prior to their honeymoon in Germany.  Unfortunately for Elizabeth being in Philadelphia she saw the front page of the June 4th edition of the Philadelphia Press which announced:

“…Trio of Artist Friends Broken by Cupid…”

which went on to state:

“…a note of sadness was felt when the realization came that the trio of artists who had lived and worked together so long would be depleted by the absence of Mrs Elliott…”

 The Chestnut Hill Herald was even more sensational in its coverage stating that a heartbroken Violet Oakley broke down completely whilst trying to change Elizabeth’s mind.     After their honeymoon, Elizabeth and her husband Huger settled in Cambridge Massachusetts.  From 1912 to 1920 Huger was supervisor of educational work and director of the department of design at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. For the next five years, he served as president of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia. He was the Director of educational work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New Nork from 1925 to 1941, when he retired.  It was not until two years later, in July 1913, that Elizabeth was reunited with Violet, Jessie and Henrietta when she and her husband returned to Cogslea for a visit. 

Violet Oakley was desperate to have a much larger studio to accomodate her massive murals and so she decided to buy Cogslea for herself and to achieve that she had to sell all her assets.  Jessie Wilcox and Henrietta Cozens moved out of Cogslea, bought a quarter of the estate land, and built a house on it for themselves.  The Red Rose Girls had finally been separated.

Jessie Wilcox Smith died on May 3rd 1935, aged 71.

Elizabeth Shippen Green Elliott died on May 29th 1954, aged 82.  Her husband Huger had died of a heart attack on November 13th 1948, aged 71.

Violet Oakley was the last of the Red Rose Girls to die.  She passed away on February 25th 1961, aged 86.


The Red Rose Girls. Part 4. Howard Pyle.

Howard Pyle

The story of The Rose Girls could not be told without talking about the American illustrator and author, primarily of books for young people, Howard Pyle, who gave the The Rose Girls soubriquet to the three young ladies he was mentoring.  He was a man of great talent and a patriotic missionary of Americanism and his illustrations were held in high esteem on both sides of the Atlantic..

The Coming of Lancaster by Howard Pyle (1908).  Illustration from The Scabbard by James Branch Cabell, and illustrated by Howard Pyle which appeared in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, May 1908 and is a fictional retelling of the story of King Richard II of England, who was deposed by his cousin Henry who belonged to the Lancaster branch of British royalty

Howard Pyle was born in Wilmington, Delaware on March 5th 1853.   He was the son and eldest child of Quakers, William Pyle and Margaret Churchman Painter, an amateur artist.  Pyle remembered his childhood, with fondness, as being an idyllic time that was centred around the family’s wonderful old stone house and its garden, which he remembered as being filled with profuse blooms and hidden wonders. Mainly thanks to his mother, Pyle developed a love of reading and like many children of his age he loved the tales of Daniel Defoe’s,such as Robinson Crusoe, the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and mystical stories from the Arabian Nights. all of which fired up his young imagination. He attended the Friend’s School in Wilmington followed by schooling at a small private institution. He was not a top student, and it was said that he wasted too much time daydreaming. His one love was art and he spent much of his free time drawing.  He also developed a love of writing his own stories.   Although it was the wish of Pyle’s parents that their son should attend college, Howard Pyle had other ideas about his future, which he saw as being a professional artist or writer.  Knowing that their son was never going to go to university his parents, especially his mother, decided to encourage him to study art.

The Mermaid by Howard Pyle (1910)

He studied for three years at the studio of Francis Van der Wielen in Philadelphia.  Van der Wielen was a Dutch artist who in 1872 had taught sixteen-year-old Cecilia Beaux.  Besides a few art lessons later at the Art Students League of New York, these three years tutoring by van der Wielen were Howard Pyle’s only formal training. Because of problems with his father’s leather business, Howard Pyle had to spend many years helping out in the family business. The artistic breakthrough for Howard Pyle came in 1876 when his mother sent an essay and sketches he had done while on holiday with his father on Chincoteague Island to Scribner’s Magazine.  The editor accepted the article and illustrations and told Pyle they were so good that they were being published in the November issue of the magazine.  Furthermore, the editor invited Howard Pyle to come to New York and work for the magazine as a writer and illustrator.

A Wolf Had Not Been Seen at Salem for Thirty Years by Howard Pyle.  Illustration for “The Salem Wolf”  a short story written and illustrated by Howard Pyle for Harper’s Monthly magazine, December 1909.  

Howard Pyle was now living in New York city in a small rented room at 250 West 38th Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) and it was not long before he sold his first painting to Harpers Weekly, a magazine that would continue to buy his work for many years in the future. The publisher of Harper’s Weekly had assembled an exceptional group of professionals who were knowledgeable about illustration and trained in the newest methods of printing, and the House of Harper became an informal training ground for the likes of Howard Pyle to learn every aspect of the publishing process.  It was soon after settling in New York that Howard Pyle knew that he wanted to write and illustrate books for children. Pyle had both a wonderful imagination and he also was able to recollect stories from his childhood.  He set about putting those memories on paper and at the same time illustrated his prose.  He submitted many of his stories and illustrations to the St Nicholas magazine, a popular monthly American children’s magazine, founded by Scribner’s in 1873.    

An Attack on a Galleon, a 1905 illustration for the story, The Fate of a Treasure Town by Howard Pyle which appeared in the December edition of Harper’s Monthly magazine.

He drew upon his vivid childhood memories to contribute stories to the St. Nicholas magazine, and he read and studied many of the old folktales that he’d loved as a child, extending his reading to include less familiar tales from many nations. These folktales and the romances of his boyhood would become the central core of his work over his lifetime; and although he is primarily remembered today for his contributions to illustration, he was a writer of some skill. Indeed, he has been compared to Hans Christian Andersen in the way his unique voice and imagination shaped his traditional folklore and fantasy material.

St Nicholas magazine cover. May 1875

According to Ian Schoenherr’s blog on Howard Pyle, one of the first magazine covers to feature an illustration by Howard Pyle is the May 1877 cover of St. Nicholas, Scribner’s Illustrated Magazine for Girls & Boys.  Pyle actually only designed the long rectangular illustration which runs diagonally across the cover.  In the magazine the publisher explained the illustration:

“…The beautiful tablet by Mr. Pyle, which adorns our cover this month, tells a true story in its own lively fashion. Its quaint costumes of successive centuries, showing how May-day rejoicings have been kept up from age to age, will send some of you a-Maying in encyclopedias and year-books, but it gives its real meaning at a glance – which is, that through all time people have welcomed the first coming of the spring. “Merrie May,” meaning pleasant May (for in old times “merry” simply meant pleasant), was as fresh and beautiful ages ago as it is to-day; and in one way or another the thought at the bottom of all the rejoicing is ever that of the old carol:

 

“A garland gay I’ve brought you here,

And at your door I stand;

It’s but a sprout, but it’s well budded out.

The work of our Lord’s hand.”

Howard Pyle remained in New York until 1879 at which time he returned home to Wilmington, by which time he had established a reputation as a leading writer and illustrator of children’s books. 

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire, published in 1883, is thought to have been Pyle’s first children’s book.  He wrote, illustrated and designed the book himself.  In all, he went on to do many more books for this audience including Pepper and Salt, The Wonder Clock and four volumes of the Legends of King Arthur

He completed Legend and Stories of King Arthur in 1903.  The book contains a compilation of various stories, adapted by Pyle, regarding the legendary King Arthur of Britain and select Knights of the Round Table. Pyle’s novel begins with King Arthur in his youth and continues through numerous tales of bravery, romance, battle, and knighthood.

The 1902 illustration by Howard Pyle “There is a time to fight, and that time has now come” for The Story of a Great-Grandfather by George Hibbard which appeared in Scribner’s Magazine January 1903

Howard Pyle believed that book illustration was the fundamental basis from which to produce painters.  His ideas with regards illustration were revolutionary and at odds with many of the beliefs of the day. Pyle was adamant that artists needed, to get beyond the stiff figures of the studio life class and let their figures and scenes come from the imagination rather than from a frozen pose.

For Pyle, the overall design of the book was of paramount importance and he helped his students learn how to incorporate their illustrations into the finished article. Pyle made it clear to his students that the role of the illustrator was to compliment and enhance the text in personal ways rather than merely mimic what the text expressed. Through his many books and his teaching, the influence of Howard Pyle on children’s literature is acknowledged by readers and artists to this day.

Howard Pyle working on mural depicting Battle of Nashville in his Franklin Street studio (c.1905).

Pyle decided to do something about giving art students a firmer foundation in illustrative art by offering his services to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art as their Instructor of Illustration.  His offer was politely refused and he was told that the Academy school was for painters and sculptors and was a school for the fine arts only.  Pyle, having been rebuffed by the Academy, was not to be deterred and made  the  same  offer  to  the  Drexel  Institute.  His offer was promptly  accepted  and within  a short  time there  began  to appear  in the magazines new names of illustrators who had been students of Pyle.  Sensing that the Drexel Institute was the better option when it came to illustrative art, many of the Pennsylvania Academy students left and enrolled at the Drexel Institute.  The director of the Pennsylvania Academy, Harrison Morris, realised he had been wrong to rebuff Pyle’s offer, and asked him to come and teach at the Academy and name his own salary.  Pyle’s short reply was to the point:

“…He who will not when he may, when he will, he shall have nay…”

Howard Pyle commenced teaching at the Drexler Institute in October 1894. The catalogue of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts (1894-1895) announced:

“…A Course in Practical Illustration in Black and White, under the direction of Mr. Pyle.  The course will begin with a series of lectures illustrated before the class by Mr. Pyle. The lectures will be followed by systematic lessons in Composition and Practical Illustration, including Technique, Drawing from the Costumed Model, the Elaboration of Groups, treatment of Historical and other subjects with reference to their use in Illustrations.  The students’ work will be carefully examined and criticized by Mr. Pyle…”

Within Howard Pyle’s first class that October, there were thirty-nine students, including three young people destined to become outstanding leaders in the field of illustration:  Maxfield Parrish, Jessie Willcox Smith, and Elizabeth Shippen Green.  Three years later, in 1897, Violet Oakley joined the class.

………..to be continued.


Most of the information I used for this blog came from an excellent book by Alice A. Carter entitled The Red Rose Girls, An Uncommon Story of Art and Love.


On a more personal note, it is ten years to the day that I started My Daily Art Display blog and this is 830th “edition”.  It started as a one-a-day blog but they were shorter blogs and I was finding I was putting too much pressure on myself to meet deadlines so I now do just one a week but have increased the number of words.  I do enjoy writing them and hopefully will carry on a little while longer.