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As we enter the eve of the next millennium, we should reflect on some of the salient works of American art of this and the last century to see if one particular school or movement defines or encapsulates what is known as American art of this period. If one were to specify which art has defined, inspired, and motivated this country as a whole, American landscape painting would be one of the top contenders for this honor.
Were it not for the magnificent works created by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Thomas Cole, and Frederic Church, who painted the glories of this country’s land--some historians have wondered--would settlers and homesteaders have ventured forth as early in the nineteenth century, seeking the glories of nature attributed by these artists to the landscape? Many settlers set forth inspired by the promise of superlative images of the country, lured by these immortal works.
It is not surprising then to realize that American artist Fred Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966), the most reproduced painter in the history of art, began and ended his career with the form he most loved to create: the landscape. Parrish did not come by this achievement easily. He made a small detour of approximately thirty-five years through the fields of illustration before he could afford to do what had always been his goal: work as a landscape artist. In his landscape work he ascended from illustration to fine easel art, and because of his landscapes, his peers began acknowledging him in museums and art institutions.
Parrish was born to Stephen Parrish and Elizabeth Bancroft Parrish in Philadelphia on July 25, 1870. His father, who was descended from a long line of very respected Quaker physicians, broke the mold established by his ancestors and became a painter and etcher of some note. Stephen married well. Elizabeth Bancroft’s inheritance, personal wealth, and investments allowed the young husband to spend summer months traveling with his talented son and painting both in Europe and in Annisquam, Massachusetts. The painting camaraderie between father and son remained close and warm throughout their lifetimes.