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Hill Top Farm, Winter
Maxfield Parrish (American, 1870–1966)
34.29 x 39.37 cm (13 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on Masonite
Not On View
Maxfield Parrish, deeply committed to the democratization of art, was probably the most popular artist of the twentieth century in the United States after Norman Rockwell [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Norman%20Rockwell]. Like many American artists, including Winslow Homer [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Winslow%20Homer], Parrish began his artistic career as an illustrator and became prominent through the publication of his work in popular magazines, such as Harper’s Weekly, Scribner’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Life, and Collier’s. Parrish’s images also enhanced books, such as the childhood classics Mother Goose in Prose (1897), by L. Frank Baum, and Dream Days (1902), by Kenneth Grahame. Parrish gained further renown through his posters, which decorated millions of households in the 1920s. He was also a muralist. His most famous mural, Old King Cole (1906), can be seen in the bar of the St. Regis Hotel in New York City.
During and after the traumatic events of World War II, Parrish produced idyllic, comforting images of rural America that appealed to the public’s escapist fantasies. Hill Top Farm, Winter, a scene of Windsor, Vermont, was part of a series of landscapes that he painted in the last thirty years of his life for Brown and Bigelow of Saint Paul, Minnesota, one of the nation’s largest distributors of calendars and greeting cards. The picture appeared on the Brown and Bigelow calendar for 1952 with the title Lights of Welcome. The warm lights in the farmhouse windows and the smoke issuing from the chimney create a cozy, appealing image.
Parrish painted his idealized landscapes in the studio, and they were often a composite of elements based on photographs of various locations. He frequently made detailed architectural models of the buildings in his paintings so that he could study the shadows and highlights in his studio and create the effects he wanted. Parrish achieved the jewel-like finish and light effects of his paintings through a painstaking technique of applying numerous transparent glazes over blue underpainting on a white ground applied to Masonite—a newly manufactured type of board with a particularly smooth surface. After each application of transparent glaze had dried, Parrish added a thin coat of varnish. In this painting, the artist used a very fine stipple brush to grade the sky from a dark cobalt blue at the top down to almost white at the horizon. He often used coarse-textured blotting paper to achieve different surface qualities before the glazes dried. Parrish’s scrupulous attention to detail meant that he completed only three or four landscapes a year, each a technical tour de force. His romanticized visions of rural New England embody the nationalist spirit that characterized much of the artwork created in the second quarter of the twentieth century.
This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).
Lower right: Maxfield Parrish 1949; Reverse: Hill Top Farm/Winter/Maxfield Parrish/Windsor: Vermont./1949
1949, the artist; 1966, the artist's estate. 1967, Vose Galleries, Boston. 1968, Karl G. Yaeger, Columbus, Ohio. 1981, Vose Galleries, Boston; 1981, sold by the Vose Galleries to the MFA. (Accession Date: September 16, 1981)
Gift of Mrs. Katharine H. Putnam, by exchange