The Talented Paxtons

 

William McGregor Paxton and his wife, Elizabeth Okie Paxton

William McGregor Paxton

Elizabeth Okie Paxton

 

 

 

 

 

 

       William McGregor Paxton                                               Elizabeth Okie Paxton

My blog today features an artistically talented husband and wife who were born in America in the late nineteenth century.  Let me acquaint you with Mr William “Bill” McGregor Paxton and his wife Mrs Elizabeth “Betty”  Okie Paxton.

     

Portraits by William Mc Gregor Paxton of his father and mother (1902)

William McGregor Paxton was born in Baltimore on June 22nd 1869.  He was the only child of James Paxton and Rose Doherty Paxton, a daughter of Irish immigrants.  The family left Baltimore before William’s teenage years and settled in Newton Corner, a village just west of Boston, where his father set up a baking and catering business.  Whilst at school, William became interested in art and became a very proficient painter, so much so, whilst still at the suburban high school he was accepted into the Cowles Art School in Boston which was one of the largest art schools in the city.  Cowles Art School offered instruction in figure drawing and painting from the flat cast and life, artistic anatomy, perspective, and composition, painting still life, drawing, and painting the head from life, drawing still life, oil and water colours. He studied with the American Impressionist Dennis Miller Bunker, a friend of John Singer Sargent, who was the chief instructor of figure and cast drawing, artistic anatomy, and composition at the school.  Bunker was so impressed by the work produced by Paxton that he persuaded him to travel to Paris to further his artistic tuition.

paxtoninstudio

In the Studio by William McGregor Paxton (1905)

From this Boston art school, William Paxton travelled to Paris in 1889 and studied at the Académie Julian.  Later he transferred to the government run, prestigious all male, art establishment, École des Beaux-Arts and studied under the French Academic painter, Jean-Léon Gérôme in his Paris atelier. William Paxton remained in Paris for four years and did not return to America until 1893.  On his return, William returned to the Cowles School and studied with Joseph DeCamp and became a junior instructor.   Around the same time, Elizabeth Vaughn Okie was also studying art at the Cowles Art School, under Ernest Lee Major and Joseph Rodefer DeCamp. 

Elizabeth Okie Paxton

Elizabeth Okie Paxton

Elizabeth Okie was born into a well-to-do family on March 17th, 1878 in Providence, Rhode Island.  She was the daughter of Dr. Howard Okie who had studied medicine in Germany and Elizabeth Coleridge Vaughn whose family were stockbrokers and bankers.  Elizabeth had a younger sister, Adele. Both Elizabeth and Adele were home-schooled by a governess which gives you an idea as to the financial status of the family.    While Adele loved music, Elizabeth loved her art and her parents enrolled her at Cowles Art School when she was sixteen-years-old.   One of her tutors at Cowles Art School was William Paxton during his brief tenure teaching at the school.  Love blossomed between teacher and pupil despite a nine-year age difference and in 1896, she and William became engaged. 

My Wife, Elizabeth (Wedding Portrait of Elizabeth Okie Paxton) (1899).

On January 3rd, 1899, just a few months before her twenty-first birthday, the couple married.  The long length of the engagement could well have been down to Elizabeth’s well-off parents being concerned with the future financial prospects of their future son-in-law.  After their marriage, William and Elizabeth lived with his parents at 43 Elmwood Street, and later bought a house at 19 Montvale Road in Newton Centre, one of a number of villages within the city of Newton in Middlesex County, Massachusetts.  William Paxton would continue to commute daily into Boston.

Elizabeth Vaughan Okie by William McGregor Paxton (1894)

In the collection of the Boston Athenæum’s is one of the earliest portraits of Elizabeth by her husband which he completed in 1894.  It is thought that it may have been painted specifically for her. It is fortunate that the work still survives as most of Paxton’s early paintings were destroyed in a studio fire in 1904, making this a rare survivor from that period of his professional life.

In 1906, now back in Massachusetts, William joined the faculty of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as an instructor and became friends of Frank Weston Benson, head of the Painting department and the Impressionist painter, Edmund Tarbell.  These three artists and art educators believed passionately in teaching art and conveyed to their students an in-depth understanding of painting methods and composition. All three of them had studied at the Parisian art academies where demanding technical classes were coupled with an intensive study of the most well-known painters of the past. For them it was important to try and convey to their students what it was about the great paintings of the past that made them timeless.  William Paxton summed it up, saying:

“…Other people can look at pictures just for the pleasure they get out of them. We painters, when we are on the job, must always be looking to see how they achieve their effect. Just as an actor, when he goes to the theatre, never loses sight of the scenery, lighting, pulleys, gestures and tricks of inflection, the sum of which stirs the audience, so we painters must always be watching to discover the procedures by which the great masters produced beauty…”

Art of Impressionist Painter William McGregor Paxton

La Russe by William McGregor Paxton (1913)

William Paxton, along with Edmund C. Tarbell and Frank Weston Benson, was one of the founding members of a group of Boston-based painters active in the first three decades of the twentieth century, known as the Boston School.   Their preferred subject matter was of a genteel nature such as portraiture, picturesque landscapes, and young women posing in well-appointed interiors. They were influenced by artists such as John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, and Jan Vermeer.  The Guild of Boston Artists was established in 1914 by the three artists and was created to be an artist-owned and artist-operated gallery. With the mission of promoting both emerging and established artists living in the region, the Guild developed a reputation for excellence in quality and presentation.

Elizabeth Okie Paxton featured in a number of her husband’s paintings.  One such example was his 1906 work entitled The Red Fan.

The Red Fan by William McGregor Paxton (1906)

The Red Fan (Portrait of Mrs Paxton) by William McGregor Paxton (1906)

Paxton had been brought up in a middle-class background and was well aware of Society’s hierarchical rules.  On getting back to America from his time in France William Paxton completed a number of paintings which featured the domestic opulence of the upper-class. His favoured depictions were those of composed females of the leisure class, often his patron’s wives, often with their domestic servants, with sumptuous backdrops of richly decorated interiors.  He was an important genre and portrait painter in the Beaux Arts style. 

paxtonfigurine

The Figurine by William McGregor Paxton (1921)

The females that featured in his genre and portraiture varied from dowagers and schoolgirls to servants, and his paintings helped identify idealized female roles of upper-class New Englanders at the beginning of the twentieth century.  It was all about female beauty and elegance which was in stark contrast to the work of the Ashcan School painters of New York who featured the gritty, and unglamorous realities of city life, often featuring New York women wandering down busy streets, flirting openly, and willingly catching the eye of passing strangers.  Paxton’s females oozed confidence and a sensual wistfulness but at the same time exuded demureness and respectability in stark contrast to the vulnerable yet gregarious Ashcan School’s women

William McGregor Paxton (1869–1941), Tea Leaves (1909),

Tea Leaves by William McGregor Paxton (1909)

A fine example of this is his 1909 painting entitled Tea Leaves.  We see two well-dressed young women taking tea together. The woman in the blue-trimmed hat looks closely at the leaves at the bottom of her cup, which was a popular way of telling one’s fortune. 

William McGregor Paxton (1869–1941), The String of Pearls (1908

The String of Pearls by William Mc Gregor Paxton (1908)

His 1908 painting String of Pearls was another work which portrayed a sophisticated and cultured female enjoying a period of leisure, studying her pearl necklace.  Paxton often depicted ladies with expensive and beautiful accoutrements in luxurious settings.  For affluent male observers of Paxton’s works, it was if it were not just the furnishings and the jewellery which were items they would like to possess, but it was also the females themselves.

 

paxtonwomanwithbook

Woman with Book by William McGregor Paxton (1910)

Like many of his Boston colleagues, Paxton was influenced by the work of the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Paxton was fascinated not only with Vermeer’s imagery, but also with the system of optics he employed. He studied Vermeer’s works closely and discovered that only one area in his compositions was entirely in focus, while the rest were somewhat blurred. Paxton called it “binocular vision,” crediting Vermeer with recording the slightly different point of view of each individual eye that combine in human sight.  His painting, Woman with Book, we see the sunlight beaming through the window at the left, a woman (who even looks like one of Vermeer’s models) stands and reads a large book, with a painting on the wall behind her. The optical focus of the work appears to be the purse which the woman holds high against her left shoulder. 

The New Necklace by William Paxton (1910)

William Paxton began to use this system in his own work, including his narrative painting The New Necklace, where only the gold beads are sharply defined while the rest of the objects in the composition have softer, blurrier edges.  The New Necklace, which he completed in 1910, is one of Paxton’s best-known paintings.  It is an intriguing work and we are made to wonder what is going on.  In the depiction, we see a younger woman, dressed in fashionably coloured clothes, sitting at a narrow bureau writing. She has turned her chair so that she can reach behind and hold out her left hand to receive the new necklace mentioned in the title. The jewellery is being placed into her hand by a slightly older woman, in a drabber dark blue-green dress.  She rests her chin on her left hand.  She purposefully does not make eye contact with the seated woman.  What is going on?  We, the observer, are provoked to use our imagination as to what is taking place in front of us.  There is obviously an air of subservience between the standing and seated woman but how does the handing over of the jewellery come into the story.  What hold does the seated woman have over the other?   I leave it for you to decide.

Nude by William Paxton

Nude by William McGregor Paxton (1915)

This blurring effect can be seen again in Paxton’s 1915 painting simply entitled Nude, which is part of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts collection. In the depiction, we sees a young woman seated on a blue dress that is spread across the seat of a backless divan. She leans to the right as she reaches out for her pink underwear.  We observe the woman partly from the back and partly from the side.  Paxton has slightly blurred all the items in the room and the woman herself with the exception of her right breast and parts of her right arm.  From seeing the props used in this painting in other of his works, we know they are part of the trappings of his studio.

The Beach at Chatham by William Paxton (c.1915)

The Beach at Chatham by William McGregor Paxton (1915)

Paxton completed a number of landscape paintings such as his 1915 work Beach at Chatham.  Chatham is a town in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, located at the southeast tip of Cape Cod.  It is an unusual painting format with a low horizon line and seven-eighths of the work taken with the sky.   The result being the minute figures of those people on the shore.  However, the unusual format gives us, mere mortals, the feeling of how little we matter in the Grand Plan.  When Paxton began painting The Beach at Chatham, he envisioned the same problems that confronted the first Dutch landscape painters, namely, how to perfectly balance the visual expansiveness of a seascape with the presence of the human element. Adopting an extremely low horizon line and filling seven-eighths of the canvas with sky, the beachgoers appear diminutive, allowing the artist to promote the infinite over the everyday, and create a powerful, even awe-inspiring composition.

Nausicaa by William Paxton

Nausicaä by William McGregor Paxton

William McGregor Paxton delved into mythology with his painting Nausicaä.  It is based on Homer’s story of the trials and tribulations of Odysseus on his journey back home after the fall of Troy.  Odysseus has finally escaped on a raft from the clutches of Calypso and her island of Ogygia.  The raft is wrecked in a storm inflicted by Poseidon, and Odysseus has to swim ashore on the island of the Phaeacians.  After swimming along a river estuary he manages to clamber up the banks exhausted and naked and heads into a wood, where he falls asleep.  The next morning, Nausicaä, the daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of Phaeacia, and her handmaidens go to the seashore to wash clothes. Awakened by their chatter and play, Odysseus emerges from the forest completely naked, scaring the servants away, and begs Nausicaä for aid.  William Paxton’s depiction is at the point in the story when the naked Odysseus approaches Nausicaä and her handmaidens.

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Red Apples by Elizabeth Okie Paxton (1920)

Elizabeth Paxton continued with her art studies under her husband’s guidance and became known for her beautiful still life paintings and her timeless works which featured everyday domestic objects, beautifully depicted with a sensitivity to light, colour, and form.  By shifting from interior scenes to still life works, Okie Paxton avoided competing with her husband’s subjects.  Elizabeth Okie Paxton painted still life works, finding a ready market with private collectors. Unfortunately, this meant that very few of her paintings are on show to the public in a museum.

ELIZABETH VAUGHAN OKIE PAXTON (American

Copper Jug with Apples by Elizabeth Okie Paxton

Copper Jug with Apples is a still life of a table covered partly by a white tablecloth upon which a copper-handled jug, three apples and a green cup and saucer.

Continental Breakfast by Elizabeth Okie Paxton (1907)

Another of her still life works is entitled Continental Breakfast which was exhibited at Rowland’s in Boston and described on May 17, 1907, and was described as:

“…she has set forth a dainty little breakfast, daintily arranged on a crisp, clean white tablecloth; there is a silver coffee-pot, a coffee-cup and a saucer of thin white porcelain, with a light green rim, a brown breakfast roll, a dish of fruit containing a half of a grapefruit and a bunch of grapes, and a covered dish of blue and white hawthorn ware. All these things are painted with so much delicacy and loving care, they are so pretty in themselves, and they are so well related together, that it is a pleasure to look at them. It is a long time since we have seen a better piece of still life work…”

Okie Paxton utilized light, texture, and colour like that of other artists of the Boston School. 

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The Breakfast Tray by Elizabeth Okie Paxton (c.1910)

In contrast to this pure still life work she also completed another work which featured a breakfast tray.  The painting is her famous 1910 work entitled The Breakfast Tray.  The painting requests our company into a world of femininity.  What we see before us is a scene of disorder and yet highly sensual, and utterly credible. It has a personality of its own.  Before us is not a depiction of staged harmonious domesticity but one that pricks our curiosity.  It is a provocative, almost erotic narrative work and yet it is almost a still-life work.  What at first glance appears to be a simple depiction 0f morning light streaming through an unseen window.  On the left falling we see the light falling upon the silver service of a breakfast tray which has been placed on a chair next to the unmade bed.  On the tray there is a small samovar, half a grapefruit, a bread roll, and a porcelain mug and jug.

Look at the artists depiction of light and shade.  See how the morning light bounces of the highly polished wooden leg and spindles of the Windsor chair.  It is still early morning and the sun has yet to rise high in the sky and so we see deep shadows under the shoes and along the rails of the chair as well as the space under the bed.  The bedding is rumpled.  A dressing gown has almost slid from the bed.  The lace-trimmed sheets and pillow, still with the marked impression of the sleeper’s head who has now risen and vacated the bedroom and it is all those aspects which prevent it being a still-life and steer it towards a narrative work.  So, what is going on?   The pillows on the bed are intimately close.  On the footboard of the bed there is another item of clothing. What is it?  Maybe another robe or a pair of trousers.  The more we stare and seek out minute details the more we become a voyeur.  A rumpled bed and abandoned shoes allow our mind to race towards the sexual nature of the scene and yet our erotic thoughts are dampened when we realise the breakfast tray is set for just one person.  Who brought the tray to the sleeping person – a servant, a lover?  Where has everybody gone? 

Elizabeth Okie Paxton's Sick a-Bed

Sick-a-bed by Elizabeth Okie Paxton (1916)

A similar setting can be seen in her 1916 painting entitled Sick a-bed. The painting was bought by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  Academy officials said that the work would serve to bolster the museum’s effort to build its contemporary holdings and add to its growing body of art by women.

Is this all just a figment of my imagination and yet I say to you never just flick your gaze over a work of art, study it and imagine what was in the artist’s mind when they put brush to canvas and the painting makes us want to know more about the artist who created it.  What little we know about her is that Elizabeth Okie Paxton enjoyed a harmonious marriage, who would selflessly endorse her husband’s career.  They loved and respected each other.  She was a beautiful woman who also served as her husband’s muse, and often modelled for many of his paintings.  Although she painted The Breakfast Tray which some considered a risqué work, she enjoyed painting less controversial still life works. She and her husband were not blessed with children and consequently her life was devoted to both her and her husband’s art. She continued to manage her husband’s business affairs after his death with correspondence regarding his art estate until 1970, apparently paying even more attention to his posthumous career than her own active one. Of course, this leads to the obvious question – could she have been better known as a painter had she not married William? On the other hand, if she had not married William Paxton would she have missed meeting influential people and teachings that subsequently propelled her own development?   It is just the age-old question “what if?”

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The House Maid by William McGregor Paxton(1910)

Over the decades that followed, both William and Elizabeth became successful artists, William best known as an accomplished portrait painter who painted two US presidents, Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge and Elizabeth gained fame as a painter of still-lifes and interiors.  William Paxton was made a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1928.  He was working on his last painting, a view of his living room at 19 Montvale Road, with his wife posing for him, when he was stricken with a heart attack and died in 1941, at the age of 72.  After her husband’s death Elizabeth once again gave up her own art to focus on promoting her husband’s art and legacy.

Elizabeth Okie Paxton died on April 2, 1972 in Boston, aged 94.

 

John Koch. Part 3.

                                                                        Interlude by John Koch (1963)

Dora featured in many of her husband’s paintings.  One such is his 1963 work entitled Interlude.  In a way it is a narrative painting recounted a day of painting for the artist.  Here we glimpse artist John Koch in his apartment studio with an African American model, said to be one of is favourites.  She dominates the foreground of the painting.  The contrast between the colour of her dark ebony skin, the white bed sheets, and the vibrant red robe of the third person in the painting make for a great contrast.  The shape of her graceful back echoes the lines of the nearby Queen Anne style chair.  The African American model, Rosetta Howard, dominates the foreground as Koch depicts her dark velvety back against the white bed sheet and the vibrant red robe of the third person in the painting, John Koch’s wife, Dora, who offers the model a cup of tea. The three figures neither engage with the viewer, nor do they engage in eye contact with each other.  The artist fixates on his partially completed canvas.  The artist’s wife in the red gown avoids looking at the naked body of the model, who in turn concentrates her gaze on the cup and saucer.  So, like other paintings by Koch, the figures and furniture have been set by the artist.  What are we to make of the depiction?  Is it just a simple portrayal of an artist and the model taking a break from their work or is it something more?  Could it be John Koch wanting to highlight a contentious role reversal – a white woman in 1963 serving a black woman !

                                                        The Breakfast Tray by John Kotch (1970)

Dora Koch appeared in the same red dress in her husband’s 1970 painting entitled The Breakfast Tray.  For John and Dora, breakfast on a tray was a daily ritual.  In this work we see the tray laden with their finest china.  The setting for the painting is the hallway of their Setauket, Long Island house.  John holds the tray in front of himself and it appears to be an offering to his elegantly robed wife who is mounting the stairs.

Photography by Dwight Primiano
                                                              Studio – End of the Day by John Koch

Rosetta Howard appeared in a number of John Koch’s paintings including His work, Studio – End of the Day in which artist and model finally take a rest from painting and posing.

Artwork Title: The Lesson - Artist Name: John Koch
                                                                            The Lesson by John Koch (1970)

Another painting to feature his wife was John Koch’s 1970 work entitled The Lesson in which we see Dora giving one of her piano lessons.

John Koch (1909-1978) Summer Night 78 x 44in (198.1 x 111.8cm) (Painted in 1965.)
                                                      Summer Night by John Koch (1965)

John Koch was known for his sophisticated and stylish depictions of trendy life in and around New York City. His 1965 painting, Summer Night, is a perfect example of the genre.  It was painted on a monumental scale (198 x 112 cms) and highlights Koch’s dextrous skill for assembling figures so as to highlight the interactions and intrigue between his subjects. The scene in this painting is set in the evening on a front porch of a wealthy home with people relaxing after drinks and a meal.  The scene exudes a laid-back and tranquil elegance of a family gathering on a warm evening.  Note how Koch has carefully arranged the props which translate into fastidiously arranged still life elements of the work.  The painting was first exhibited at the Kraushaar Galleries. His time working with the gallery brought him great commercial success for the remainder of his career.  The painting was last sold in 2020 at Bonhams, New York Auction for US$ 162,575

                                                                   The Sculptor by John Koch (1964)

There were a number of paintings by Koch that depicted both artist and sitter and one of my favourites is his painting entitled The Sculptor.  It is a quasi-self portrait with John Koch as the sculptor, surrounded by the tools of his craft, including a caliper, which he is holding – in fact, one should remember that John Koch was not only a painter but a sculptor.  The model in this work was Ernest Ulmer, one of Dora’s former student who was also the subject of Interior of Studio. Ulmer is painted in full view from the back, his muscular body extended in a classic pose.  The sculpture painted in the background was one that he had made. It is a scene from Greek mythology, with Hercules and Prometheus, a mythological individual who stole fire from the gods to bring it to humans. Koch has added a touch of humour to the depiction with the visual pun between that tale from Greek mythology and the depiction in the painting of the model handing a light to the sculptor for his cigarette.  In the painting we see Koch leaning forward with the cigarette in his mouth, and the flame from the lighter held by the model is cleverly reflected in his glasses, as if extending the spark to the man himself.

The Plasterers1957x633
                                                                       The Plasterers by John Koch (1957)

In 1967 John Koch completed one of his most important paintings.  It was entitled The Plasterers.   The two men have come to Koch’s apartment to make good repairs to the walls.  In the background there is a bank of windows, some of which are open.   Look through the windows and you can see that Koch has managed to depict a panoramic skyline, probably a view of the Hudson River from his apartment window at the El Dorado building at 300 Central Park West of the Hudson River.  In the left foreground there is once again depicted Koch’s sculpture, Prometheus, which we saw in his painting, The Sculptor.   Through the windows streams the daylight which dances on the highly polished floor and furniture. 

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                                             Gustave Caillebotte’s 1875 painting The Floor Scrapers

For some reason, it is this shiny wooden floor which always reminds me of Gustave Caillebotte’s 1875 painting The Floor Scrapers which depicts three workers scraping a wooden floor in a bourgeois apartment.   On May 9, 2009 at the Brunk Auctions in Asheville, North Carolina, the painting, along with six preparatory sketches for the painting, sold for $210,000.  The painting was shown at two major Koch exhibitions. The first in 1973 at the New York Cultural Centre. The second was in 2001-2002 at the New York Historical Society.   The New York Historical Society’s 2001 exhibition catalogue described the painting as:

“…a tour de force of (the artist’s) ability to bring the outside into an interior through reflection of light playing off surfaces…”

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                                                  The Window Washers by John Koch (1975)

Another painting featuring two workers in the setting of John and Dora’s apartment is the 1975 work entitled The Window Washers.

Artwork by John Koch, THE ACCIDENT NO. 2, Made of oil on canvas
                                                     The Accident No.2 by John Koch (1968)

Another unusual work by Koch was his 1968 painting entitled The Accident. No.2.  It is a narrative work.  In the depiction we are looking into the small artist’s studio, which could also act as the artist’s bedroom.  The props set up by John Koch are a small single-bed with ruffled sheets, a discarded red silk robe, a pair of bedroom slippers which have been casually abandoned, a hand-mirror propped on the rim of a waste.  The window is partially covered by a curtain pulled back and of course the artist’s workstation with his easel, canvas, and palette. The artist and his naked model have rushed to the window to view what is happening outside.  By the title of the painting the artist is telling us that they are looking out at an accident which has happened in the street below.  The model is pointing down to something in the road below which he is straining to see.  It is an unusual scenario as most depictions of artist and model focus on the single-minded concentration of the artist as he studies his absolutely motionless model.  Here the commotion outside has broken the spell of their sensual assignation.

                                                                                Night by John Koch (1964)

In his 1964 painting, Night, John Koch has presented us with the contrast of warmth and coolness.  The coolness of the bodies now divested of clothes and yet the oppressive heat and humidity of a New York summer night when one tries desperately to be able to sleep.  John liked the setting of his painting describing it:

“…a picture of a young couple before they go to bed at night, which I think is as splendid an idea for a picture as any could be…”

The woman has fallen asleep whilst the man bides his time by reading a newspaper.  Besides him the light from a lamp on the bedside table glows through his newspaper.  The bottom of the bed and the white sheets have been illuminated by the soft blue glow of a television which is on a stand at the end of their bed.

Artwork Title: The Bath - Artist Name: John Koch
                                                                            The Bath by John Koch (1973)

John Koch whose oeuvre contained a large number of nude depictions of couples or a single male or a single female.  He was adamant that the depictions were not envisioned to be erotic, even when they depicted couples in bed. If you look over the depictions featuring a male and a female in bed they are not in the middle of lovemaking but simply relaxing, even though it may be in a post-coital state.  The pair who could be lovers or married couples show neither indication of sexual stimulation, lustful craving nor agitated signs of conflict.  There is a kind of neutrality with regards the couple’s personal thoughts.  Koch’s agenda seemed to be one that was to offer viewers a normal heterosexual relationship – one of idyllic well-being, a sense of happiness unsullied by lust or anguish. In his 1973 painting, The Bath, we see a man drying himself on the edge of a tub. He takes time to glance back at the woman who remains in the water. In contrast to his rough and hirsute muscular and bronzed body hers is smooth, pale, and supple.

                                                    Back Scratcher by John Koch 

John Koch became an elected member of the American Academy and the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1970. Five years later, he suffered a stroke and abandoned painting for the first time since his youth. John Koch died on April 18th 1978 from complications of another stroke.  He was 78.  His wife Dora died on September 9th 1987 aged 83.  John Koch’s art was dismissed by the more progressive art scene as just a society painter and was little known outside his circle of wealthy, connected patrons. However, he managed to capture scenes of a New York society that is mostly gone now and therefore many of his paintings were a historical record of a world which was more formal and refined.  His often stage-managed art is classed as being of a realism genre and yet the depictions of opulence were tinged by an element of fantasy.  Maybe it is a fantasy we all hold dear.

John Koch. Part 2.

                                                             The Monument by John Koch (1950)

John Koch’s reputation was further enhanced in 1950, when his painting The Monument was exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s national competitive exhibition American Painting Today.

                                                       The iconic El Dorado Apartments, Manhattan

In 1953 John and Dora spent five months in Paris and on their return to New York they moved into a fourteen-room apartment on the tenth floor at the El Dorado at 300 Central Park West, one of the twin-towered pre-war apartment buildings that presents such an iconic and distinctive vista on the Central Park West skyline. It was whilst living here that John and Dora became one of the uptown bohemian set which also included an ever-expanding number of Upper West Side artists, writers, and musicians.  A short time later, the couple purchased the adjacent apartment on their floor to be used as Dora’s music studio, where she continued her practice as a private tutor.

                                              Forbes family portrait by John Koch (1956)

Portraiture had always been a financially rewarding genre for artists and so it was for John Koch.  His forte was group portraits and in 1956 he completed a group portrait for Malcolm Forbes, an American entrepreneur most prominently known as the publisher of Forbes magazine.  It is a very informal depiction of the family.  Malcolm Forbes relaxes at home shortly after the birth of a new daughter, Moira.  We see Malcolm and his wife, who cradles the baby, along with their four sons, Steve (Malcolm Jnr)., Robert, Christopher, and Timothy. It is interesting to note Koch’s methodology in how he paints group portraits.  He would make studies of each individual, then to join these studies as a group against the backdrop of a chosen interior. He stated:

“…In all the pictures, the models never pose together.  What is more important than whether there is or is not someone posing for you is the relationship between them…”

John Koch carefully arranged where each person would stand or sit in the portraits just as he would when arranging the objects in the still life and interiors he painted. He was ultra-meticulous when considering where people and objects were placed.  It was if he was an interior designer.  This painstaking thoroughness was also a reflection of his own lifestyle in the way he dressed, the way he carefully chose his circle of cultured friends and acquaintances, and what fine art and antiques he would bring into his tastefully appointed apartment which he shared with his wife, Dora.  Leslie Cheek Jnr., Director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, between 1948 and 1968, wrote about John Koch’s interior depictions:

“…His pictures of his particular slice of our world today are vigorous and appealing. One enjoys with him his love of fine furniture, elegant mirrors, rich fabrics, and fresh flowers-all glowing with the individual reflections which light, his particular forte, gives to each…”

Artwork Title: The Cocktail Party - Artist Name: John Koch
                                                            The Cocktail Party by John Koch (1956)

For some, Koch’s depiction of afternoon soirées are too good to be true, but does it matter?  Maybe Koch had decided to pictorially represent how life should be rather than how it was.   Probably his best-known painting is his 1956 work entitled The Cocktail Party.  It never happened but it was a depiction of what Koch imagined what a great soirée would have been and the guests he would have invited.  Koch described his social circle as:

“…people of our own making, our own way of looking at things…”

The attendees at this party were all acquaintances of the John and Dora Koch in the mid-1950s and as I explained before, Koch’s modus operandi was to paint each individual separately and then fit them into the painting which was set in his living room at the El Dorado where John and Dora were the consummate hosts.

Artwork Title: The Cocktail Party - Artist Name: John Koch

The characters in the work are Leo Lerman (author and editor), in the foreground in profile (with dark beard) conversing with pianist Ania Dorfmann. The other guests, left to right, are artist Roger Baker, artist and critic Maurice Grosser, the Dr. Leonard Smileys, the painter John Koch, standing at the bar, busy mixing drinks, Mrs. Edgar Feder, an unidentified woman, composer Virgil Thomson (composer), music critic Noel Straus, Dora Koch seen standing and bending forward to attend to the seated music critic Noel Strauss. , an unknown seated woman, artist Felicia Meyer Marsh, artist Aaron Shikler, art dealer Roy Davis, butler Leroy Lowry, artist Raphael Soyer, and biographer Frances Winwar.  The painting was John’s idea of the perfect guest list for his perfect party.  He liked the painting so much that it remained in his possession for the rest of his life.

                                                                 Three Musicians by John Koch (1958)

It is fascinating to view some of Koch’s paintings which feature interiors once you realise he has stage managed the depiction.  It is as if in Koch’s life as in his art, his and Dora’s apartment simply acted as the stage for a play-in-progress.  The props in the form of furniture and wall hangings were, like the figures, merely theatrical props, and John, with the help of Dora, was the director and often the lead actor.  In his 1958 painting entitled Three Musicians there are three “actors”. There is the artist’s wife, Dora, as well as Leo Lerman, an American writer and editor who worked for Condé Nast Publications for more than 50 years, who is shown seated closest to the cello. The model for the third figure in the white shirt is probably Paul Rotella, who, like Dora Koch, was a pianist and music teacher.

                                                 Family Group by John Koch

I also like his “stage-managed” family portrait simply entitled Family Group.  Such a happy family gathering of husband, wife and two sons.  So contented in a sumptuously furnished room.  Everything is placed just so to give the observer a view of a perfect lifestyle.  For John and Dora Koch, paintings like this were just a chance to construct a perfect lifestyle, a world of their own conception.

                                                                              At Home by John Koch (1953)

John and Dora’s lifestyle was one of afternoon cocktails, musical recitals in their large living room and eagerly expected painting unveilings but they still had to be financially sound and this was achieved by Dora’s musical tutorials and John’s commissioned portraits.  Let us not think for one moment that the Koch’s elegant lifestyle was achieved without hard work by the couple.  It was their dedication to the arts, painting for John, music for Dora that gave them the greatest pleasure.  We should also remember that the couple came from completely different upbringings.  John was the son of liberal Midwesterners.  His mother was of Irish descent who had a non-religious epiphany and left the church after her son’s baptism while his father, albeit a charismatic man was a business failure and later a political failure when he failed in all his attempts to become governor of Michigan on the Socialist ticket. On the other hand, Dora Zaslavsky was a Jewish immigrant, born in the Ukraine, whose father’s early occupation was that of a poverty-stricken peddler.

                                                                       My Studio by John Koch (1952)

The closeness of the couple and the way they worked hand in hand can be seen in John Koch’s 1952 painting My Studio.   A nude model looks out at us as she reclines on a chaise longue.  John is perched upon a stool in front of his easel.  A trolly holds his palette whilst on the shelves underneath it is all the oils and paraphernalia needed by the artist.  Dora, holding a book of sheet music, stares out at the river scene.  All is serene.  It is a truly untroubled and harmonious life. 

John Koch (1909-1978) Siesta 30 1/8 x 25 1/4in (76.5 x 64.1cm) (Painted in 1962.)
                                                                  Siesta by John Koch (1962)

John Koch’s art was not just depictions of wealthy people living in opulent settings.  Many of his works featured nudes, sometimes nude women, sometimes nude men and sometimes both.  These like his group portraits were beautifully finished works of art.  In 1962 he completed a work entitled Siesta which focused on human sexuality and the intricacies and complications of the male-female relationship.  We see two figures, one, a nude female with her back to us, sitting in a chair at a desk brushing her hair.  She is glancing in the mirror at her lover who lies asleep on the bed.  We can just make out her flushed face, flushed from her early lovemaking.  The other figure, her lover, is partly wrapped in a blue sheet, which is raked by the afternoon sunlight which has penetrated the bedroom.  The large bed is centre stage of the painting.   The depiction exudes an air of intimacy.  It is not a condemnation of sexual activity but an at-ease acknowledgement of a tender relationship and the pleasurable sensuality of sex.   Koch has composed his two figures in an idyllic state, contentedly relaxing in warm light that spills through the windows. 

Time Magazine, January 24, 1964, vol. 83, no. 4, front cover illustration featuring Siesta painting by John Koch

The work of art, through its domestic bedroom scene depicts the complexities of the male-female relationship. John Koch’s painting was chosen for the cover of Time Magazine in 1964 for a special issue entitled SEX in the U.S.: Mores & Morality, accompanied by an article Morals: The Second Sexual Revolution which ended with the following paragraph:

“…The difference between the ’20s and ’60s comes down, in part, to a difference between people. The rebels of the ’20s had Victorian parents who laid down a Victorian law; it was something concrete and fairly well-defined to rise up against. The rebels of the ’60s have parents with only the tattered remnants of a code, expressed for many of them in Ernest Hemingway’s one-sentence manifesto: “What is moral?…”

The painting went to auction at Bonhams American Art Sale on July 29th, 1962 and although had an estimate of between $40,000 and $60,000 it eventually sold for $596,075 !   Jennifer Jacobsen, Bonhams’ Director of American Art, commented:

 “…We are thrilled with the success of our most recent sale of American Art. We saw competitive bidding across all of the genres offered in the category, demonstrating collectors’ demand for quality works and the strength of the current market. We are honoured to have achieved such a strong price for John Koch’s elegant, beautifully painted work Siesta, which is now his second highest price at auction and a near miss of his world auction record…”

……………………………..to be concluded.

John Koch. Part 1.

                                                               John Koch

The artist I am looking at today is the twentieth century American painter John Koch.  I will also look at the life he had with his extremely musically talented wife Dora.  Both their successes came from hard work and their mutual support of each other.  For them, it was hard work that achieved you a grand lifestyle which the couple enjoyed during their married life.  He is best known for his portraits, nudes, and paintings of genteel urban interiors, often set in his own light-filled Manhattan apartment.

See the source image
                                                  Portrait of the Artist’s Father by John Koch (1951)

John Koch was the son of Marian Joan and Edward John Koch and was born in his grandmother’s house in Toledo, Ohio on August 18th, 1909.   He spent most of his childhood and teenage years in the university town of Ann Arbor, a city in the U.S. state of Michigan, where his father was in the furniture business but unfortunately, failed to make a success of it.  John Koch described his father as a man of great charm, a great reader, but a poor businessman.  His father also unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan on the Socialist ticket.

In his early teens John Koch developed a love of art and, later in life, he revealed in an interview:

“…The possibility of being other than a painter never seriously occurred to me. Ever since I could hold a pencil, the desire I had to reproduce amounted to passion…”

In 1923, at the age of 14, John, for a short period, took some lessons in drawing in charcoal and that was essentially the only formal art training he received. During high school, he did however spend two summer vacations at the artists’ colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and around 1928, shortly after graduation he sailed to Paris, not to enroll at an artistic establishment, but to simply paint by himself and savour the life of an artist in the European capital of art.   His self-tuition focused on going to the Louvre and copying the work of the Masters.  According to John, the Louvre was his master.  John became so skilled at copying the famous works that he once produced an imitation of a painting by Gustave Courbet that was subsequently mistaken for a genuine work.  In 1929, Koch exhibited his work at the Salon des Tuileries and the Salon de Printemps and received an honourable mention, which was to be the first of his many awards.

Artwork Title: Father and Son - Artist Name: John Koch
                                                         Father and Son by John Koch (1955)

In his early twenties, John Koch joined the Internationale Union des Intellectuals, where he mixed with such luminaries as André Gide, the French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, André Malraux, the French novelist, art theorist, who later became Minister of Cultural Affairs, and Jean Cocteau, the poet, playwright, novelist, designer, filmmaker, visual artist, and critic.  This group would assemble in the homes of its members and presented Koch with his first exposure to the lives of artists and intellectuals.  It also gave him the opportunity to sit in on discussions about Surrealism and, swayed by what he heard and seen, even painted a few Surrealist works himself but was unhappy with his attempts and gave up on that genre.

                                                                      The Plasterers by John Koch

John spent over four years in Paris and during that time he developed a formidable technique, evident in his beautiful rendering of light playing on surfaces.  A good example of this can be seen in his later painting, The Plasterers which he completed in 1967.  It was described in the New York Historical Society’s 2001 exhibition catalogue as:

“… a tour de force of (the artist’s) ability to bring the outside into an interior through reflection of light playing off surfaces…

The Plasterers stands among John Koch’s most important paintings.

                                                             Dora Zaslavsky Schwarz (1925)

Before John had set sail for Paris in 1928, it is thought he had met the newly married, Dora Schwartz, and was impressed by both her beauty and her talent as a pianist.  The two quickly became friends, but their mutual affinity was put on hold when John sailed for Paris, intent on pursuing his life as a painter in the world’s art capital.  Dora Schwartz (née Zaslawskaya) was a Jewish immigrant, born on July 18th 1904 in the Ukraine city of Kremenchuk in the oblast of Poltava.  Her father Max had immigrated to the United States the previous year and she then travelled by ship to a new life in America with her mother Celia and her older siblings Joseph and Fay, along with a young cousin. Another of her brothers, Israel, was born six years later.  Dora’s father’s early occupation was as a peddler and family legends has it that Dora’s musical talent was discovered thanks to a large toy piano with real black and white keys that her father brought home for her.  This was the start of her musical career !   Eventually after a lot of training, she became a gifted pianist, which led to a career as a piano teacher and she would go on to coach some of the outstanding concert pianists of the day.  Later she became head of the piano department at the Manhattan School of Music and developed its chamber music section.  On September 12th 1927, Dora Zaslawskaya, aged 23, married New Yorker Herbert S. Schwartz   Herbert was also a talented musician and his family had hoped that one day, he would become a concert pianist, a similar aspiration was had by Dora’s mother for her daughter.  Herbert Schwartz, however, chose to pursue a college education rather than continue studying music and when he and Dora married, he was beginning his third undergraduate year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, with the hope of eventually becoming a physician. He was accepted into medical school but dropped out after one semester.  Following his rejection of medical studies, he enrolled at Columbia University the following fall to study philosophy and graduated in 1933.  By this time, the marriage between Dora Zaslavsky and Herbert Schwartz was almost over and they decided to end the relationship in an amicable divorce.  However, in the state of New York the only grounds for divorce was adultery and so in 1934 they arranged for, and staged a fraudulent act of adultery, at which the said defendant, Herbert T. Schwartz, was not even present !  The divorce decree was granted on August 10th, 1935.  There were repercussions with regards this fake adultery set up which are complicated and too long for me to go into the details but you can read about the Ohio Court of Appeal case in 1960, Schwartz v Schwartz 

                                                                       Ocean Liner SS. Minnetonka

Meanwhile, John Koch left Paris in 1934 and returned to America, settling in Manhattan, initially staying at a friend’s apartment on Washington Square.  He already knew Dora Schwartz.  He could well have met her and her husband in Paris.  They had sailed to Europe on the SS. Minnetonka on September 26th 1932.  When he settled in Manhattan in 1934 and heard about her impending divorce, he was determined to make her his wife.  John went to live in an apartment block in Manhattan at 56th & Madison, in a room next door to the apartment Dora was sharing with her sister Fay.  A year later, the couple sealed their love by marrying on December 23rd, 1935 and moved into their first “together home”, an apartment at 865 First Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets, in Midtown Manhattan. It catered for both their needs with the bedroom served as John’s studio and the living room with piano was Dora’s studio.  The newlyweds hosted parties driven by sharp business acumen: as John served cheap port to his wife’s students and their parents, Dora worked the room, procuring portrait commissions for her husband.

Artwork Title: The Bridge - Artist Name: John Koch
                                                                               The Bridge by John Koch (1950)

In 1935 John Koch exhibited works at his first New York exhibition which was held at the Valentine Dudensing Gallery.  His work was well received and Emily Genauer, the art critic of the New York World-Telegram described John as:

“…the man to watch……a young man with a great gift…”

In 1939 John held a sell-out one man show of his works at the Kraushaar Gallery, a long-established gallery run by the niece of the founder, Antoinette M. Kraushaar.  John Koch had a special relationship with the gallery and its owners and during the next thirty-five years the Gallery held a further dozen one-man exhibitions of his work.

                                                         East River by John Koch (1939)

It was in the thirties that John’s painting East River was acquired by the Brooklyn Museum of Art and it was one the first museum acquisitions of his work.

Cover for 1941 Annual Exhibition of Paintings by American Artists Under 40 catalogue
Cover for 1941 Annual Exhibition of Paintings by American Artists Under Forty catalogue

In 1941, starting on November 12th and carrying on until December 30th, the Whitney Museum of Art held its Forty under Forty Exhibition.   It was the museum’s Annual Exhibition and that year it was an Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, chosen by members of the Museum staff from the work of artists forty years of age, or younger.  John Knox submitted two paintings, Marble Quarry and Portrait of Mary.  That same year he also exhibited at the 51st Annual Exhibition of the Art Institute of Chicago.

By the 1940s, John Koch’s success and recognition continued to grow. From 1942-45 he joined the United Service Organizations in the art sketching and portrait division in veterans’ hospitals and from 1944-46, Koch took up the post as tutor and taught figure painting at the Art Students League in New York. However, with regards financial success he became one of the featured artists of classical portraits at Portraits Inc. Portraits, Inc., was founded in 1942 by Lois Shaw, an art and antiques dealer and socialite. In the early 1940’s, Mrs. Shaw partnered with the USO to give weekly studio parties in her Park Avenue gallery that often centred on portraiture. She contacted a number of portrait artists and asked them to contribute their services by doing life drawings of the military men and women in uniform who attended the parties. This allowed Koch to earn a substantial income.  The joint income of John and Dora was such that they managed to buy a summer residence at Setauket on Long Island.

……………………………………to be continued

Lilla Cabot Perry. Part 2.

                                                 Portrait of Alice Frye Leach by Lilla Cabot Perry (c.1880)

It was in 1889 that Lilla Cabot Perry first encountered Claude Monet’s work at the prestigious Galerie Georges Petit in Paris which staged a Monet/Rodin collaboration exhibition (Claude Monet-Auguste Rodin, centenaire de l’exposition de 1889), that opened on June 21st.  It was also in that summer of 1889 that Lilla and her husband first met the great French painter.  According to an article written by Lilla, which appeared in the March 1927 edition of the American Magazine of Art, a young American sculptor who was living in Paris mentioned to her and her husband that he had a letter of introduction to meet Monet but he was very nervous and shy with going on his own to the great man’s house so asked the couple if they would accompany him on his visit.  Lilla and Thomas Perry were delighted to accept the invitation as they had greatly appreciated what they had seen at the Claude Monet-Auguste Rodin exhibition.

In the article Lilla recounts her first impressions of Monet.  She wrote:

“… The man himself with his rugged honesty, his disarming frankness, his warm and sensitive nature, was fully as impressive as his pictures and from this first visit dates a friendship which led us to spend ten summers at Giverny.  For some seasons, indeed, we had the house and garden next to his and he would sometimes stroll in and smoke his afternoon-luncheon cigarette in our garden before beginning on his afternoon work…”

The Impressionism style that Lilla encountered with the art of Monet was an epiphany moment for her. She immediately took to this style even though it was still rejected and scorned by the art world around her.  The way the Impressionists managed the colour and light was a great inspiration to her and during those summer days at Giverny she also worked with many American artists, who had found their way to the small French town to sample the joys of plein air painting in the rural surroundings, such as Theodore Robinson, John Breck, and Theodore Earl Butler.

                                               La Petite Angèle, II, by Lilla Cabot Perry (1889)

One of her painting during her time in Giverny was her 1889 work entitled La petite Angèle II.  It is impressionistic in style with its free form brushstrokes that capture the impression of light and colour.   Claude Monet, inspired Perry to work en plein air, and use impressionistic brushstrokes, soft colours, and poppy red. If you look through the window depicted in this work you should note the early stages of what would become Lilla’s love affair with the way the Impressionists treated landscape depictions.

Angela by Lilla Cabot Perry, 1891, High Museum of Art.jpg
                                                                  Angela by Lilla Cabot Perry, (1891)

A similar work by Lilla was entitled Angela.  It was a portrait of one of her favourite models in Giverny. The clearly defined figure posed in a freely brushed and light-filled setting typifies academic American Impressionism of the time.

A Little Girl in a Lane in Giverny - Lilla Cabot Perry Painting
                                            A Little Girl in a Lane in Giverny by Lilla Cabot Perry

In late 1889 Lilla Cabot Perry and her husband left Giverny and embarked on a tour of Belgium and the Netherlands.  In 1891 she returned to Boston with her family bringing home a painting by Monet and a number of landscapes works by John Breck.  Once back in Boston she began to spread the word of Impressionism especially the works of Monet.  However, like many art critics in France, Impressionism was not favoured by either the American critics or the buying public and Lilla had to begin with a hard-sell of his works.  She would exhibit his works at her home and give talks about him and the world of Impressionism to the Boston Art Students’ Association. 

                      Portrait of Baroness R by Lilla Cabot Perry, (1895)

Whether Bostonians accepted the merit of Monet’s work or not, the one thing for sure was that they appreciated the paintings of Lilla Cabot Perry, especially her portraiture.  Several of her paintings were exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago and were greeted with great acclaim.   In 1897 she exhibited work at the St Botolphs Club in Boston and the art critic of the Boston Evening Transcript wrote:

“…Mrs Perry is one of the most genuine, no-nonsense, natural painters that we known of………………Such work must be taken seriously…”

The Letter, 1893 - Lilla Cabot Perry
                                           The Letter (Alice Perry) by Lilla Cabot Perry (1893)

Lilla Perry’s artistic success in 1889 had made it possible for her to be one of the select few young artists to be admitted to Alfred Stevens’ class in Paris.  The works of Lilla Perry were often influenced by the time she spent with Stevens. A good example of this is her 1893 painting entitled The Letter [Alice Perry] and the way she has depicted the chair, especially the careful attention she has paid to  the colouration of the wood, and the way she has depicted her youngest daughter’s clothes in such detail.  It is a loving portrait of a nine-year-old daughter by her mother.

Black-and-white interior photograph of a light-skinned adult woman in profile with dark hair in a bun and a light-color dress. She stands in front of an easel and holds a palatte and brushes in her left hand. She rests her right hand on a painting of a light-skinned young girl.
                                                                       Lilla Cabot Perry at work (c.1890)
Lilla Cabot Perry, 1896 - Haystacks, Giverny.jpg
Haystacks, Giverny by Lilla Cabot Perry (1896)

In 1894, sheonce again exhibited her impressionism paintings at the St. Botolph Club in Boston together with other Impressionism artists, including Edmund Tarbell, Phillip Hale, Theodore Wendel, and the British-born painter Dawson-Watson. Three years later, and in the same gallery, Lilla held a solo exhibition.  On show were her Impressionist-style portraits and landscapes. 

Giverny Landscape, in Monet’s Garden by Lilla Cabot Perry (1897)

This proved to be a major turning point for Lilla Perry as it showed that her work was gaining the recognition of the American art world and that Impressionism was finally being acknowledged as a legitimate artistic expression. Lilla Perry was a devoted Impressionist painter and she loved the work of the Impressionists, especially the works of her friend Claude Monet.  Now back in America she took every opportunity to endorse French Impressionism and urged her friends to invest in their work.  She also gave many lectures and wrote essays for journals and magazines supporting this French art movement.

In a Japanese Garden by Lilla Cabot Perry (1901)

Between 1868 and 1872, Lilla’s husband, Thomas Perry, was a tutor in German at Harvard and from 1877 to 1881, he was an English instructor in English as well as being a lecturer in English literature from 1881 to 1882. Thomas Perry was offered a new challenge in 1897 when he was presented with the opportunity to take up a teaching position in Japan as an English professor at the Keio Gijuku University in Tokyo.  Lilla and her husband along with their three children left America and travelled to Japan.  Not only was this and exciting time for her husband it was also a stimulating time for Lilla and offered her new opportunities to paint.

In 1898, he became professor of English literature in the Keio University, in Tokyo, Japan.  The Perry family lived in Japan for three years and Lilla immersed herself in its artistic community.  Lilla Perry met Okakura Kakuzō, one of the Imperial Art School co-founders and became an honorary member of the Nippon Bijutsu-In Art Association, an artistic organization in Japan dedicated to a Japanese style painting known as Nihonga.

Portrait of a Young Girl with an Orange by Lilla Cabot Perry (1898-1901)

Such an involvement in the Japanese art and Asian art in general helped Lilla develop her unique style which fused western and eastern artistic traditions.

Child in Kimono by Lilla Cabot Perry (1898)

The result of this coming together of east and west can be seen in her Impressionist portraits.  

Lilla Cabot Perry, Mount Fuji with Gravestones, Harvard.jpg
Lilla Cabot Perry, Mount Fuji with Gravestones, 1898-1901

It was not just her portraiture that Lilla focused on during her three-year stay in Japan, she also completed a number of landscape works.  By far her most favoured subjects were ones depicting Mount Fuji.  Of about eighty paintings she completed whilst in Japan, thirty-five depicted the iconic mountain.

Open Air Concert by Lilla Cabot Perry (1890)

Lilla and her family left Japan for America in 1901 and settled back into their house in Boston.  Her three daughters were now all in their twenties and their mother had completed a number of paintings feature all of them or as individuals. In an early painting entitled Open Air Concert, which she completed in 1890, she depicts her three daughters in a garden setting with her eldest, Margaret, with her back to us, posed playing the violin.

The Trio, Tokyo, Japan by Lilla Cabot Perry (1901)

Almost ten years later Lilla’s three musically-talented daughters featured in her 1901 painting entitled The Trio, Tokyo, Japan (Alice, Edith and Margaret Perry).  In 1903 Lilla and Thomas Perry bought a farm in Hancock, New Hampshire.  She said she immediately fell in love with the area as it reminded her of Normandy, an area she knew well from her days at Giverny. 

Portrait of Mrs Joseph Clark Grew (Alice Perry) by Lilla Cabot Perry (1905)

Alice Perry, Lilla’s youngest daughter featured in her mother’s portrait entitled Portrait of Mrs. Joseph Clark Grew [Alice Perry].  Joseph Grew married Alice Perry on October 7th, 1905 and became her husband’s life partner and helper as promotions in the diplomatic service took them around the world.   The couple went on to have two daughters, Lilla Cabot in 1907 and Elizabeth Alice in 1912.  Lilla’s portrait of her daughter won her a bronze medal at the prestigious International Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in St. Louis.

Portrait of William Dean Howells by Lilla Cabot Perry (1912)

In the first decade of the twentieth century Lilla Cabot Perry divided her time between Boston and France but her health had started to deteriorate possibly due to all the travel she was doing but also because of financial problems.  Her inheritance had dwindled and she was the main source of the family income through the sale of her paintings.   The financial difficulties the family were experiencing meant that she had to spend a lot of her time completing portraiture commissions to make up for the money that her family was losing in investments.  She once declared that she had had to complete thirteen portraits in thirteen weeks, four sitters a day at two hours each.   It also rankled with her that she had to concentrate on portraiture as her Impressionistic landscapes were viewed as too experimental by her conservative patrons.  An example of her portraiture work around this time was her 1912 Portrait of William Dean Howells, the prolific American novelist, playwright and literary critic.

See the source image
Portrait of Edith Perry Ballantine and Edward Ballantine by Lilla Cabot Perry

In 1923 Lilla was struck down with diphtheria and at the same time she was struggling to support her middle daughter, Edith, who had suffered a mental breakdown and was admitted to a private mental health institution in Wellesley, Massachusetts.  Lilla spent two years convalescing in Charleston, South Carolina.

Lilla Perry, like many other nineteenth century painters, was unhappy with the new avant-garde trends in Modern art such as Fauvism led by Henri Matisse and André Derain and so in 1914 she, along with Edmund Tarbell, William Paxton and Frank Benson, helped form the ultra-conservative Guild of Boston Artists in order to oppose the art world’s avant-garde trends.  In 1920 Perry received a commemoration for giving six years of loyal service to the Guild.

A Snowy Monday by Lilla Cabot Perry

During her time convalescing she discovered a new inventiveness for her landscape works, what she termed as “snowscapes.” These beautiful winter landscapes laden with snow became a craving 0f Lilla’s and she would go to extreme lengths to capture winter scenes en plein air, even bundling herself up in blankets and hot water bottles in order to capture the beauty of a 4 a.m. sunrise. One of her most famous “snowscapes” was her 1926 work entitled A Snowy Monday.

Lilla Perry by Frederick A Bosley (1931)

Her summer home in Hancock soon became her main residence and she and her husband Thomas settled into village life in the picturesque New Hampshire foothills.   Thomas Perry died of pneumonia on May 7th 1928, aged 83.  Lilla Cabot Perry continued to paint prolifically until her death on February 28th, 1933.   Lilla and Thomas Perrys’ ashes are buried at Pine Ridge Cemetery in Hancock.

Lilla Cabot Perry. Part 1.

Lilla Cabot Perry, self portrait
                                               Self portrait by Lilla Cabot Perry (1913)

The artist I am looking at today, born Lilla Cabot, comes from a long line of powerful and wealthy descendants.  The Cabot family was part of the Boston Brahmin, also known as the “first families of Boston.  It all goes back to John Cabot, who was born on the Isle of Jersey on April 7th 1680.  At the age of twenty he set sail for America and settled in Salem, Massachusetts in 1700.  John was not part of the first community to have arrived in the New World but by the end of the eighteenth century, the Cabots were the pre-eminent family of New England.  By 1800 John and his son Joseph Cabot were extremely wealthy, largely because of their privateering during the American Revolution, smuggling, and trading in slaves and opium.  Shipping during the eighteenth century was the lifeblood of most of Boston’s first families.  In the nineteenth century, the Cabot enterprises multiplied and took in oil and gas production, railroads, and chemicals.  The Cabots maintained their wealth and social status into the twentieth century, in the main, by educating most of their sons at Harvard and carefully arranging their marriages and the marriages of their daughters.

Lilla Cabot was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 13th, 1848.  She was the eldest of eight children of Doctor Samuel Cabot III and her mother, Hannah Lowell Jackson.  She had six brothers and one sister.  Her family was one of the most important in Boston society, and the family were on friendly terms with such literary luminaries as Louisa May Alcott, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

                                         Child in Window by Lilla Cabot Perry (1891)

Lilla had a good and fulfilling childhood and was given the freedom to think for herself by her parents.  She was an avid reader and liked taking part in outdoor sports.  During her school years she studied literature, language, poetry, and music but during her early teenage years there she had no great interest in painting and drawing except that occasionally she would take part in sketching sessions with her friends.  As a child and teenager she never received any formal art training, This would not happen until she was thirty-six years of age !

The Cabots played an active role in Boston society and through that young Lila came into contact with many people who would congregate at the Cabot residence.  On April 12th, 1861, when Lila was just thirteen years old, the American Civil War began.  Her parents, coming from the North, were passionate abolitionists and they took a hands-on role in the war effort by offering care to wounded soldiers and helping to safeguard runaway slaves.  Lilla Cabot was seventeen when the Civil War finally ended and it was around this time that her father moved his family out of the city and relocated them to farmstead in Canton, Massachusetts, a small rural town about 15 miles southwest of downtown Boston.  It was probably here that Lilla Cabot became interested in landscapes and rural life.

Portrait of Thomas Sergeant Perry by Lilla Cabot Perry, (1889)

Thomas Sergeant Perry was an American editor, academic, literary critic, literary translator, and literary historian. From his early childhood days, he was a close friend and associate of Henry James who would become one of Americas greatest novelists.   Perry was a member of the faculty at Harvard University and after graduating in 1866, went to study in Germany.  He returned to America and in 1872 worked for the literary magazine, North American Review. He was the grandnephew of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry and a Harvard professor who was once described as ‘the best-read man in Boston’.  He and Lilla Cabot became friends and the relationship turned into love and on April 9th, 1874, twenty-six-year-old Lilla Cabot married twenty-nine-year-old Thomas Sergeant Perry.   The couple went on to have three daughters, Margaret born in 1876, Edith in 1880, and Alice in 1884.

Lilla Cabot Perry, Portrait of an Infant, Margaret Perry.JPG
                               Portrait of an Infant, Margaret Perry, by Lilla Cabot Perry (c.1877)

The answer to why Lilla became interested in art is thought to be due to the encouragement to take up painting by her husband’s brother in-law John LaFarge, an artist famous for his stained-glass windows, and the husband of Thomas Sergeant Perry’s sister Margaret.  One of Lilla’s first works was that of her infant daughter Margaret.

Lilla Cabot Perry, The Beginner, 1885, University of Arizona Art Museum.jpg
                  The Beginner (Margaret with a Violin) by Lilla Cabot Perry (1885)

In the same year that Lilla’s youngest daughter was born she enrolled on her first artistic course.  She began with private lessons in 1885, with the portrait painter Alfred Quentin Collins and one of the first works she completed under the tutelage of Collins was the 1885 work entitled The Beginner which depicts her ten-year-old daughter Margaret playing the violin.

See the source image
     Portrait of Alexander Stewart Wetherill by Alfred Quentin Collins

Looking at this portrait of her daughter playing the violin, it can be seen the input Collins must have had on Lilla as seen in Collins’ Portrait of Alexander Stewart Wetherill.  The depiction has the same dark background and the sitter has the same serious facial expression.   

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                                     Robert Vonnoh, Self portrait

In 1885, Lilla’s father died and left her an inheritance and this financial backing gave her the chance to enrol at art institutions which would afford her the chance to study art more earnestly. In January 1886, she began to study with Robert Vonnoh, an American Impressionist painter known for his portraits and landscapes.  At the time, Vonnoh taught at both the Cowles Art School in Boston and at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Lilla was inspired with Vonnoh’s more unorthodox work which was very different to that of Alfred Collins and it was to be the beginning of her artistic journey and lifelong commitment to Impressionism.  Another tutor she worked under at Cowles School was Dennis Miller Bunker, a leading American Impressionist, who was the Cowles School chief instructor of figure and cast drawing, artistic anatomy, and composition.

                                          The Red Hat,” or “Edith,” by Lilla Cabot Perry

In 1887 Lilla Cabot Perry received a commission to paint the portraits of the three daughters of Aaron Lufkin Dennison, one of the founders of the Waltham Watch Company.  It was a valuable assignment and covered the cost of first-class sea voyage to Europe in June 1887 for her and her husband.  Upon arriving in France, Perry enrolled in the Académie Colarossi where she worked with Gustave Courtois and Joseph Blanc. She also studied with Felix Borchardt, a German painter. In addition to receiving formal academic training, Perry spent much of her time studying the old masters at the Louvre in Paris.  She also travelled to Madrid and spent time copying works at the Museo del Prado. Her 1888 painting The Red Hat, is testament to her previous formal training she had received back in America as well as the time she spent in Europe studying the works of the old Masters, especially the work of Sandro Botticelli.

                                                   Fritz von Udhe in his studio

In 1888 Perry travelled to Munich where she studied with the German painter Fritz von Uhde, who mainly worked with genre painting and religious motifs .  Over the years, his colour palette became stronger and more colourful, similar to those of his impressionist artist colleagues.  His painting style could be described as being between Realism and Impressionism, and he was once known as “Germany’s outstanding impressionist” Fritz von Udhe became one of the first painters to introduce plein-air painting in Germany.

                                                                     Tony  Robert-Fleury in his studio

Lilla Cabot Perry left Germany in the Autumn of 1888 and returned to Paris where she enrolled in art classes at Académie Julian under the tutelage of Tony Robert-Fleury, a French painter, known primarily for historical scenes.

                       Le Grand Salon, Musée Jacquemart-André, by Walter Gay (1913)

One of Lilla’s fellow artist friends was Walter Gay, the Massachusetts born painter who was residing in Paris.  Many young American artists who arrived in Paris in the late 19th-century became Gay’s pupils so much so that the New York Times labelled him the “Dean of American Artists in Paris”.  At the start of his career he would often depict realist scenes of French peasantry but later in life he began to depict stylish interiors with exquisite furnishings.  It was Walter Gay, in 1889, who persuaded Lilla to put forward two of her paintings for inclusion at an exhibition held by the Société des Artistes Indépendants

See the source image
                                    The Red Tunic(Portrait of Edith Perry) by Lilla Cabot Perry (1889)

The paintings were portraits of her husband, Thomas Sergeant Perry, (seen earlier on) and one of her middle child, nine year old daughter, Edith, also known as The Red Tunic.  They were accepted into the exhibition and that success marked the start of Lilla Cabot Perry’s artistic career. 

                                                            Elegant Figures in a Salon by Alfred Stevens

The success of her paintings also enhanced her reputation as an artist, so much so that she was admitted as a student at one of Belgium artist’s Alfred Stevens’ class in Paris.  Stevens like Walter Gay depicted opulent French interiors but in his case he added genteel ladies to his depictions.

In the summer of 1889 Lilla and her husband met Claude Monet…………………

……………………………….to be continued.

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…”

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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.