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people, and places.
You too may become a dilettante. It is not boring.

From Jacksonville Beach, FL

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Whimsy of Parrish's "Daybreak," "Dinkey-Bird, "Air Castles"

      "Daybreak" painted by Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was the most popular art print of the 20th Century.  It was painted in 1922 for the express purpose of use as a prototype for art prints.  It has been the most reproduced art image in history.  In the few years after the 18"x30" oil painting on board was reproduced for prints, it is said that one of every four American homes had a copy on its wall.  It has outsold prints of da Vinci's "The Last Supper" and Andy Warhol's "Campbell Soup Cans.
        I am lucky enough to have spotted a copy years ago at an antique show.  Mine is shown in the photo at the top of this page.  It is one of the early 18"x30" copies in a vintage frame from the period.  A Parrish frame is usually a gold color with an inner border of dark blue, also known as "Parrish blue."  The blue on my frame has darkened, but it is easy to see that it was blue at one time.

detail from vintage frame

   I have enjoyed its whimsy for  more than twenty years.  It set me on a quest for information about Maxfield Parrish and a search for more of his prints.  I always look for bargains in such purchases.  I bought "Daybreak" at bargain price and have since acquired prints of "The Dinkey-Bird" (1904) and "Air Castles" (1905).  

                                                                    "The Dinkey-Bird"
"Air Castles"

     You have to be a bit of a Romantic to enjoy Parrish. His images are so imaginative and unusual.  There have been several surges of public interest in him since his death.  One was in the 1970's.  His prints suddenly started appearing mostly as posters.  I suspect they went on the walls of college dorm rooms.  
    Parrish's original painting of "Daybreak" sold for $7.5 million at a Christie's auction in 2006.  The buyer was Mel Gibson's wife, Robyn.  She sold it at another Christie's auction in 2010 for $5.2 million.  Those are the largest prices for any Parrish work.  "Daybreak" has always been privately owned, but went on loan to the National Museum of American Illustration in 2006.  That was its most recent public showing. 
      Parrish the man is himself a study in whimsy.  He had no formal training in art.  His father painted as a hobby and encouraged his son to paint as well.  He did travel to Europe to view the art of the Masters in museums and other places.  He was married with two children, but kept a mistress, Susan Lewin,  in his own house for 40 years until she was in her 70's.  She lived in a maid's room that had a secret passageway to Parrish's studio.  
     Mrs. Parrish knew about the relationship and tolerated it, but the children did not know until they were adults.  In a plan for the painting, Susan is a third figure in "Daybreak" next to the right column, but evidently Parrish changed his mind and did not include her.  The leaning figure in the painting is his ten year old daughter Jean Parrish.  The reclining figure is her friend Kitty Owen, who was the granddaughter of William Jennings Bryan.  
     His subjects are often nude, but never sexy nude.  Instead, some of them appear almost androgynous.  Is Dinkey-Bird male or female?
      Parrish was once asked, "What does "Daybreak" mean?"  His answer was that it speaks for itself.  He had nothing to add.  In that case, one person seems to be waking another as the sun comes up in the background.  What do you think? Sometimes an artist does not see all the possible meanings in his work.
      Many parodies and imitations of "Daybreak" have appeared.  For example, in 1995, Michael Jackson created a music video, "You Are Not Alone."  He used photos of himself and his then wife Lisa Marie Presley posing like "Daybreak."  A 1986 Nestle tv commercial for Alpine White featured a scene imitating "Daybreak."

Here is a Sesame Street parody:

The Moody Blues album "The Present" features a stylized version of the painting:

Gilbert, Alma.  Maxfield Parrish The Masterworks, Berkeley, CA.  Ten Speed Press, 1992.
Ludwig, Coy.  Maxfield Parrish. Watson--Guptill Publications, New York, 1973.




  1. i love daybreak

    for me it is a painting of someone waking up in Heaven after they passed away on earth

    and the standing figure is there to offer a happy welcome

  2. I believe there could have been a sensual relationship between the girls. There, I said what a lot of men have thought but have been afraid to say!

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