Maxfield Parrish, the prodigiously gifted, turn-of-the-20th-century illustrator famous for his limpid blue landscapes and dreamy pubescent models draped in gossamer threads, has rolled in and out of artistic favor for nearly a century. In 1964, critic Lawrence Alloway wrote about Parrish's odd place in the history of American art: "He was the most popular artist the country ever produced, with prints in a quarter of all American homes at one time; and yet his kitschy compositions were considered risible among the educated art elite." Parrish himself had a sophisticated sense of his own place in the pantheon: "There are countless artists whose shoes I am not worthy to polish whose prints would not pay the printer," he wrote. "The question of judgement is a puzzling one." But new movements of the 1960s, including photo-realism and pop art, led to critical reappraisal of Parrish's oeuvre, and a few of the later new image painters, such as Joan Nelson, found sweet inspiration in his atmospheric skies and evocative, shadowy forests.
Parrish is finally receiving his due with this truly intelligent, fascinating book. It is the catalog to a traveling exhibition organized by the author, Sylvia Yount, the curator of collections at the Museum of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia--Parrish's alma mater and hometown, respectively. With Mark F. Bockrather, a conservator who elucidates Parrish's formidable craftsmanship, Yount has done a fine job of resurrecting Parrish yet again. She offers a sensitive analysis of the place his pastoral, idyllic, storybook innocence played in a world that Freud, the Great War, the Depression, and yet another world war inexorably tore to shreds. --Peggy Moorman