In announcing a loan to the Toledo Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art today revealed another work in its collection: Maxfield Parrish's "The Lantern Bearers," an oil on canvas on board painted in 1908. The painting was originally created a 1910 issue of Collier's magazine.
If what it cost is a measure of what it's worth, it's a big deal. It was bought at auction in New York in 2006 for $4.2 million, surely by Alice Walton, though that information is confidential. A press release from the museum calls the painting "lyrical."
Crystal Bridges has also loaned its Norman Rockwell acquisition "Rosie the Riveter" to the Toledo museum.
Here, the press release from Crystal Bridges:
BENTONVILLE, Ark., July 28, 2010 — Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will share important works of art by America’s most beloved artist-illustrators with the Toledo Museum of Art. Maxfield Parrish’s lyrical nocturne The Lantern Bearers (1908), originally created as a frontispiece for the December 10, 1910 issue of Collier’s magazine, and Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter (1943), an iconic representation of the American work ethic that provided the May 29, 1943 cover of the Saturday Evening Post, will go on display in Toledo beginning August 17.
“In the world of art today, there is a revived interest in process, virtuosic painting and craft that has inspired a reinvestigation of illustrators as artists,” said Don Bacigalupi, director of Crystal Bridges. “We are pleased to contribute to the dialog through this partnership with our colleagues at the Toledo Museum of Art.”
Collaborating with other institutions is an important focus of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Since 2005 Crystal Bridges has loaned 68 works of art to 38 institutions. Currently, 34 works from the Museum’s collection are on loan at 15 institutions throughout the United States and abroad.
Widely regarded as one of the most popular American illustrators in the first half of the 20th century, Maxfield Parrish (1870 — 1966) was renowned for his idealized neo-classical imagery, meticulous craftsmanship and luminous, richly saturated colors. In The Lantern Bearers, a group of Pierrot or clown figures ascend a set of stairs. The golden lanterns that they hold create a strong diagonal composition offset by a single sphere — the moon? — on the right. The clowns appear to be identical, suggesting the employment of simultaneous narrative, where multiple scenes from a sequence in time are presented in a single image.
“The detailed representational style juxtaposed with a flat, almost medieval sky create spatial ambiguities that are most interesting,” Bacigalupi said. “This work has a stage-set, dream-world quality that is compelling.”
Coy Ludwig, a leading Parrish scholar and author of Maxfield Parrish (1973), described The Lantern Bearers as “a stellar example of Maxfield Parrish's remarkable ability to combine imaginative design and dazzling technique to create an eye-catching and immediately appealing composition. Known primarily through reproductions, it is fortunate that The Lantern Bearers now has become part of a collection where its unique qualities only visible in the original painting may be enjoyed by the public."
Parrish achieved the glowing blues and yellows in this work by layering pure pigment and varnish repeatedly on a white ground, a time-consuming technique inspired by Old Master painters. He also took photographs and worked from them; the seated figure in the lower left of the painting is based on a photograph of Susan Lewin, a favorite model who was employed as a housekeeper in the Parrish household for many years.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to cultured parents who encouraged his talent, Maxfield Parrish attended Haverford College and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before embarking on an artistic career that lasted more than half a century and helped to define the Golden Age of American illustration. Books illustrated by Parrish include L. Frank Baum’s Mother Goose in Prose (1897), Eugene Field’s Poems of Childhood (1904), The Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics (1911) and The Knave of Hearts (1925). Parrish’s work also graced the popular magazines of the day, including Harper’s Weekly, Life, Scribner’s Magazine, Century Magazine, St. Nicholas and Ladies’ Home Journal. The Lantern Bearers dates from a six-year exclusive contract with Collier’s magazine, an arrangement that gave Parrish the freedom to refine his technique. Parrish also designed advertisements for companies such as Jell-O, Colgate, Fisk Tires, Oneida Silversmiths, Wanamaker’s and General Electric.
In the 1920s Parrish turned his energy to making paintings to be sold as reproductions, favoring nudes in fantastic settings that were widely distributed through prints, posters and calendars that provided a comfortable income. After declaring “I’m done with girls on rocks!” to the Associated Press in 1931, Parrish focused on landscapes. He lived in Plainfield, N.H. and painted until four years before his death at age 95.
Maxfield Parrish’s work was featured most recently in Fantasies and Fairy-Tales: Maxfield Parrish and the Art of the Print, April 29 — July 11, 2010, organized by the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. His work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y.; the National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, R.I.; the Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, N.H. and the Cornish Colony Museum, Windsor, Vt.