Maxfield Parrish Artworks to Highlight Christie’s Auction

As a highlight of its Important American Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture auction on May 20 in New York, Christie’s announced it will offer the most significant collection of paintings and illustrations by the beloved American artist Maxfield Parrish ever to be offered at auction. Major works from all periods of Parrish’s long career as an illustrator and painter are represented within the group, including Daybreak, Parrish’s most celebrated painting. The complete collection of twelve paintings and illustrations is estimated to exceed $15 million.

Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966), “Daybreak”, 1922. Oil on board. Estimate: $4,000,000-7,000,000. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd., 2010

Daybreak, 1922
Painted in 1922, this breathtaking painting has become one of the most reproduced images in the canon of modern American art. At the time it was painted, Parrish had already established himself as a sought-after illustrator working for publications such as Life, Scribner’s, Harper’s Weekly, and Collier’s. In 1920, the art publishing firm, House of Art engaged Parrish to create a work intended specifically for reproduction as a print, rather than for a magazine, book, or advertisement. The result was Daybreak, a strikingly beautiful composition of brilliant luminosity that is widely recognized as Parrish’s greatest masterwork (estimate: $4-7 million). As an iconic image of romance and mysterious beauty, the luminous scene is so ingrained in contemporary popular culture that it has inspired scores of re-interpretations and homages in the form of album covers, movie posters, and even one scene in a Michael Jackson music video. The painting last sold at Christie’s in May 2006 for $7.6 million and remains the world auction record for a work by the artist.

The magic and spirit embodied in Daybreak is the result of Parrish’s unique and intricate approach to painting. He felt strongly about the purity of color and the resulting effect it made on the picture as a whole. Composing the scene required the introduction of paper cut-outs, photography, and an assortment of props and models that Parrish constructed in his workshop. He began the painting with a base layer of white to illuminate the image, and over this he built up layer upon layer of varnish, which heightened the vibrancy of the colors and created the painting’s smooth, enamel-like surface. This innovative technique allowed Parrish to convey surface textures and patterns with the intense detail and saturation of color that became a signature of his most celebrated paintings.

Early Career Works
Additional works in the collection include a number of Parrish’s early paintings and illustrations, from a period when he was beginning to establish the lucrative contracts and commissions that would yield some of his most enduring images. A highlight from this time period is Sing a Song of Six Pence (estimate: $2.5-3.5 million), a 1910 mural created specifically for the hotel bar of the Sherman House in Chicago, Illinois. Massive in scale, the multi-panel scene measures 5 feet, 8 inches by 13 feet, 9 inches. For his murals, Parrish often used the technique of projecting photographic images and then painting directly on the surface on a large board, a time-intensive process that ensured the veracity of his figures’ features and gestures. Sing a Song of Six Pence is exemplary of Parrish’s prodigious skills in introducing saturated color and an exceptional level of detail.

Another early career highlight is the ethereal Sleeping Beauty in the Wood (estimate: $1.5-2.5 million), a widely-reproduced romantic scene that was originally executed as the cover for Hearst’s Magazine’s November 1912 issue. Painted in brilliant hues of pink, purple and Parrish’s signature blue, the work depicts the sleeping princess in a lush evening landscape attended by two dozing female companions. Parrish’s command of perspective and composition skillfully leads the viewer’s eye through the narrative, from the sleeping girl at lower right to the girl at center left, up the stairs to the princess and through the columns to the landscape in the background.

Among the late career works in the collection is Sheltering Oaks, an excellent example of Parrish’s skill at landscape painting, a genre he turned to relatively late in his career, at the age of 61. Although he had experimented with landscape painting throughout the preceding years, by 1930 Parrish had abandonedhis earlier pre-Raphaelite compositions and turned exclusively to the nature as his subject. Sheltering Oaks (estimate: $600,000-800,000) was originally published in a 1960 calendar for The Mutual Insurance Company of Frederick County, Maryland. Painted in rich autumnal colors, Sheltering Oaks carries forward the artist’s signature use of the saturated cobalt blue hue that came to be called “Parrish blue.”

Additional works in the collection include a diptych titled My Duty Towards My Neighbor and My Duty Towards God (estimate: $400,000-600,000), The Reservoir, Villa Falconieri, Frascati (estimate: $300,000-500,000), The Reading of the Declaration (estimate: $300,000-500,000) and Two Cooks Peeling Potatoes (estimate: $150,000-250,000).