Illustrations Art Gallery

Maxfield Parrish – Illustrations for A History of New York 1900

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Maxfield Parrish (July 25, 1870 – March 30, 1966) was an American painter and illustrator active in the first half of the 20th century. He is known for his distinctive saturated hues and idealized neo-classical imagery. His career spanned fifty years and was wildly successful: his painting Daybreak (1922) is the most popular art print of the 20th century.

A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty by Washington Irving. Containing, among Many Surprising and Curious Matters, the Unutterable Ponderings of Walter the Doubter, the Disastrous Projects of William the Testy, and the Chivalric Achievements of Peter the Headstrong — the Three Dutch Governors of New Amsterdam; Being the Only Authentic History of the Times that Ever Hath Been or Ever Will Be Published by Diedrich Knickerbocker. The whole Embellish’d by Eight Pictures from the Hand of Maxfield Parrish, Esqre. New York: R.H. Russell, 1900. Printed by D.B. Updike, The Merrymount Press, Boston.

Maxfield Parrish began a series of drawings in the spring of 1898 to illustrate the well-known book Knickerbocker’s History of New York. A delightful parody on the history of colonial New York written by Washington Irving in 1809, Diedrich Knickerbocker’s history was reprinted with Parrish’s drawings in 1900 by R.H. Russell of New York. The artist worked the series into his schedule of commissions for magazine and poster designs, finishing the last of the nine drawings in September, 1899, a year and a half after the first one was begun.

Max field Parrish’s visual interpretations of Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker characters were as amusing as the text for which they were created. In depicting Oloffe Van Kortlandt’s dream of the future New York (Oloffe, by selecting the site for New Amsterdam,became America’s first great land speculator), Parrish set him against a turn-of-the-century Manhattan skyline. The portly little dreamer, perched in a treetop, reflects the burlesque humor of Irving’s satirical history.

Washington Irving characterized the American Indian as the innocent victim of the European settlers’ greed, describing the Indian race as one which lived in harmony with its environment until “the benevolent inhabitants of Europe. [beheld] their sad condition. [and] immediately went to work to ameliorate and improve it. They introduced among them rum, gin, brandy, and the other comforts of life. An Indian man, still reacting from the sting of a swallow of strong alcohol, appears somewhat uncertain about this gift from the white man in Parrish’s illustration for this passage.

The two-dimensional drawing, in ink, disregards linear perspective and, with the contrasting shading in lithographic crayon to give volume to the figure, creates an unusual juxtaposition of sizes and distances which adds significantly to the interest of the composition. The distant windmill is drawn with the same attention to minute detail as the demijohn sitting on the wall in the foreground. In both his drawings and his paintings the artist regularly exercised with great skill his preference for giving equal attention to details near and distant. (Coy Ludwig, Maxfield Parrish, pp. 25-26)

Maxfield Parrish – A History of New York 1900

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