During the Golden Age of Illustration, Maxfield Parrish's "beautiful settings and charming figures" enchanted the American public. His work includes immense murals in office buildings and hotels, magazine covers, and advertisements as well as his book illustrations.
Many of his illustrations to children's books, still popular today, are the result of his struggle to make a living as an artist in his early years around the turn of the 20th century.
He was born Frederick Parrish in 1870 in Philadelphia, but he took the name Maxfield after his Quaker grandmother. His father, Stephen, was also an artist and Parrish's greatest influence. He originally studied architecture, an interest that is evident in his paintings. He married his wife Lydia 1895.
In 1900, Parrish contracted tuberculosis, and then suffered a nervous breakdown. Around that time, he switched from illustrations to oil painting. His oil paintings became very popular, with their brilliant colors and magical luminosity, until well into the 1940s. To achieve these magical effects, he would apply numerous layers of thin, transparent oil, alternating with varnish over stretched paper, a painstaking process that achieved both high luminosity and extraordinary detail.
The tuberculosis hung on and Parrish went to Arizona to convalesce in the dry heat there. While in Arizona, he was commissioned to do a series of landscapes. He began painting and traveling on commission and his career took off.
Parrish worked at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire, called The Oaks. The Oaks was a popular destination for guests during the summers but in the frozen New Hampshire winters, Parrish dedicated himself to his painting.
In 1905, Parrish's met Susan Lewin, a 16-year old girl hired as a nanny for his son Dillwyn. Her image appears often in paintings from this time through the 1920s. Over time, Susan became Parrish's assistant, model for his paintings, and eventually his lover. His wife, Lydia, and Maxfield grew increasingly estranged and she left him in 1911. Susan stayed with Maxfield for another 50 years.
From the 1930s until 1960, when he stopped painting, Maxfield Parrish refocused his attention on the world around him, producing a series of calendar landscapes. Yet even these retain the magical, window-to-the-otherworld quality that permeates all of his work.
Parrish died at 95 in 1966, at a time when his work was enjoying a renaissance of interest.