Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"The Lantern Bearers" by Maxfield Parrish

Recently I was privileged to stand within one foot of this amazing painting, "The Lantern Bearers" by Maxfield Parrish at the Crystal Bridges Museum, in Bentonville, Arkansas. Although the painting was originally created to be reproduced as a frontispiece for the December 10, 1910 issue of Collier’s magazine, its visual effect is much like the Grand Canyon, you just have to see it in person to understand the magnitude of depth it presents.

Parrish achieved the glowing blues and yellows in this work by layering pure pigment and varnish repeatedly on a blue white background, a time-consuming technique inspired by Old Master painters. In this particular painting the lanterns appear to glow as if they are back lit. Parrish 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.

Parrish would build up the depth in his paintings by photographing, enlarging, projecting and tracing half- or full-size objects or figures. Parrish then cut out and placed the images on his canvas, covering them with thick, but clear, layers of glaze. This explains the clarity of the faces of the clowns that are not painted but yet do not look out of place. The painting was purchased for the museum at Christie's in New York on  May 25th, 2006 for $4.272 million. Go see it if you can.--Ruth Mitchell
(c) 2012 - Ruth Mitchell - all rights reserved

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