Daybreak is an American icon and Maxfield Parrish's most celebrated masterwork. A blazing commercial success, the painting is a breathtaking panorama of mythical beauty. The most popular American illustrator after World War I, Parrish was commissioned to paint Daybreak by the art publishing firm, House of Art, in August of 1920. While Parrish's art had previously been reproduced as prints--his first color reproduction was a cover for Ladies' Home Journal entitled Air Castles (1904, private collection)--it had originally been produced for magazines, books and advertisements and thus restricted in subject and composition. Daybreak was to be his first work commissioned solely for the purpose of reproduction as a color lithographic print to be distributed to the American public and would become one of the most reproduced paintings in American history. It was estimated that one of every four households had a copy of the work, making it a national sensation and cultural phenomenon.
Daybreak seamlessly combines the diverse influences of Parrish's early career with his fully developed technique and vision. The consummate masterwork displays Parrish's ability to blend Pre-Raphaelite sentiment, Old Master technique, a strict adherence to laws of proportion and a commercial sensitivity into an iconic work of astounding beauty and widespread appeal. The painting is a portal to an Arcadian fantasy that exudes innocence and mystical beauty. The dazzling landscape, bathed in dawn's rising sun, is testimony to the artist's mastery of light and color, the detailed leaves and blossoms to his exacting nature.
Although Parrish was commissioned to paint Daybreak in August of 1920, he was preoccupied with other projects, such as the illustration for Louise Saunders' Knave of Hearts, and did not begin work on the painting until the summer of 1922. He had, however, been prophetically referring to it as his "Magnum Opus" since receiving the commission. Writing to Stephen L. Newman, co-owner of House of Art, in 1921, Parrish said of his delay in starting the painting, "As to the 'great painting,' its beautiful white panel is always on the wall before me, and I am thinking great things into it. I have thought so many beautiful things into it that it ought to make a good print just as it is. Have patience." (as quoted in C. Ludwig, Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1973, p. 141)
The commission of Daybreak was prompted by the art-print successes of The Rubaiyat (1916, Collection of Alma Gilbert), Cleopatra (1917, St. Regis Sheraton Hotel, New York) and Garden of Allah (1918, private collection), which were originally contracted as decorations for Crane's Chocolates Christmas gift boxes from 1916 to 1918. Clarence Crane began to include an order form for prints of the covers as a source of additional revenue. "The demand for reproductions of Parrish's decoration grew so great that Crane arranged for House of Art, the New York fine arts publishing and distributing firm, to handle the marketing of the prints...Crane's reproductions helped to create an unprecedented public demand for Parrish's paintings in the art-print market and with it the assurance of continued financial security for the artist." (Maxfield Parrish, pp. 135, 138) One of Parrish's greatest gifts was his ability to identify what captivated the American public. In Daybreak he conflates modern and archaic elements with a sense of the theatrical in a technically masterful style to create a strikingly beautiful composition that is simultaneously exotic fantasy and accessible to the common American. "Both contemporary and archaic at the same time, Parrish had discovered a 'formula,' a unique style, a method which uncompromisingly won every time it was employed. It was a nearly scientific system, and it led him to become one of the greatest illustrators in history and the most beloved artist of the first half of the twentieth century." (L.S. Cutler and J.G. Cutler, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, Rohnert Park, California, 1995, p. 4)
The magic and spirit of boundless possibility embodied in Daybreak is the result of an intricate approach to painting that was unique to Parrish. He possessed a calm and patient disposition that was perfectly suited to the arduous and time-consuming work his pictures demanded. This approach included the use of paper cut-outs, photography, props and models constructed in his workshop as well as a meticulous method of painting with glazes. Beginning in the summer of 1922, every detail in the seminal picture was manipulated so as to create an effective design.
Parrish used the principals of Yale University Professor Jay Hambidge's "Dynamic Symmetry" to lay out the composition. This theory was based on a rediscovery of ancient Roman and Greek formulas to create harmonic proportions in architecture and art. "I lay each painting out on the basis of 'dynamic symmetry' or the mathematical proportion which the ancient Greeks and Egyptians found appealing to the eye. Thus by using 'dynamic rectangles' and 'whirling squares'...I design the dimensions of my pictures and block them off, placing the horizon in just the right place..." (Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, p. 2) The carefully measured penciled lines of "dynamic symmetry" are evident in the preparatory sketch for Daybreak. The appeal of this ordered method for Parrish lies in his architectural background and the harmony with which it imbues a composition is a strong factor in the aesthetic appeal of his paintings. Once the structure of the composition was laid out, Parrish would take photographs of his costumed models. Instead of spending hours drawing from the actual model, Parrish instead worked from these photographs. This served as a form of artistic shorthand and was influenced by his earlier studies with Thomas Anshutz and Homer Pyle. He eschewed professional models, often asking family and friends to pose for his works as he believed that these ingénues captured the spirit of innocence that he wanted his paintings to exude.
Kitty Owen Spence, William Jennings Bryan's granddaughter, who owned the work from the late 1960s until 1974, posed as the reclining maiden in Daybreak. Kitty also modeled for The Canyon (1923, private collection), Morning (1922, private collection) and Wild Geese (1924, Collection of Dr. Ronald Lawson, Memphis Tennessee). Parrish's daughter, Jean, who was eleven at the time, posed as the standing figure. As shown in the sketch, and previously mentioned, Parrish originally intended to have a third seated figure near the column at right. It is thought that this figure was intended to be posed by Susan Lewin, Parrish's housekeeper and favorite model.
Parrish then made cut-outs of the figures that he planned to include in Daybreak and used these with a variety of props in his studio to set up the exact positioning and lighting of the different elements in the nascent composition. His time-consuming glazing technique made painting from nature virtually impossible as light would shift before he could capture it. He often used clever methods of reproducing grand components in his studio, for mountainous landscapes such as the one in Daybreak he used broken quartz rocks placed on a mirror. He created the effect of natural light and shadows through artificial methods, shining lamps on models and props. Once Parrish determined exactly how he wanted to lay out his painting he would outline the composition using either a photo projection or cut-outs applied to the surface. He usually completed the landscape first and then used a stencil of the silhouette to impose the figure on top. This exacting method allowed Parrish to experiment with a variety of elements, establish a definitive layout for his composition and remove the chance of error and natural variance. This control allowed him to focus on color rather than composition when he began to paint.
Central to Daybreak's beauty is Parrish's meticulous and time-consuming process of painting with glazes. Influenced by the Old Master painters, this was a slow process that resulted in magnificent luminosity and intensity of color. Parrish began with a white base which served to light the canvas from the first layer up through the last. Then, using a stipple brush, he applied paint directly from the tube as he felt strongly about the purity of color and the resulting effect it made on the picture as a whole. Parrish subsequently layered pure pigment and varnish over and over to achieve a heightened vibrancy of colors resulting in a smooth, richly luminous surface. Daybreak's enamel-like saturation is a trademark of Parrish's work and the intense blue of the sky radiating out from behind the foliage in the left of the composition is known as "Parrish Blue." Parrish's mastery of color is at its apex in the powerful band of teal water, purple mountains and jewel-toned foliage.
Parrish's glazing technique imbues Daybreak not only with rich bold colors, but also with soft variegated light and a sense of wonder. His seamless presentation masterfully captures both the gentle and dramatic effects of dawn's muted radiance on the figures and landscape. The hazy early morning atmosphere cloaks the mountains farthest in the background, while those in the front are in sharp focus, vibrantly colored and dappled with purple shadows giving the masterwork a spectacular sense of depth and indicate the sun's movement as maiden and mountains awaken from their slumber to greet the day. The contrast between the smooth partially shadowed figures and architectural elements with the sharply detailed foliage and craggy terrain adds complexity of illumination and texture. Parrish's passionate attention to detail in the presentation of the majestic topography manifests his life-long interest in the effect of light on nature as well as foreshadowing his shift to exclusively painting landscapes in the 1930s.
The patience of his patrons, Stephen Newman and his partner, A.E. Reinthal, was rewarded. Parrish finally completed Daybreak in December of 1922 and when it was offered for sale in 1923, the consumer response was unprecedented making it one of the most reproduced paintings in American history. "In 1925, one out of every four households in the United States had a copy of Parrish's art print Daybreak hanging in its living room. Reproductions of that print outsold every other artist of the times, with the exception of Cézanne and Van Gogh. Without peer, he was the most popular American illustrator after World War I." (Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, p. 14)
The immense popularity of Daybreak lies in Parrish's ability to blend the common with the archaic and exotic to create a romanticized scene of mythic beauty that is accessible to the common American. It is a technically masterful opus in which all elements combine to create a world that is simultaneously foreign and comprehensible, seductive, but not intimidating. Parrish's ability to create a mystical utopia from the everyday things around him is at its apex in this masterwork of visual escapism. When asked by House of Art to write a paragraph to accompany the work, Parrish declined, saying "Alas, you have asked the very one thing that is entirely beyond me, to write a little story of Daybreak, or, in fact, of any other picture. I could do almost anything in the world for you but that. I know full well that public want a story, always want to know more about a picture than the picture tells them but to my mind if a picture does not tell its own story, it's better to have the story without the picture. I couldn't tell a single thing about Daybreak because there isn't a single thing to tell; the picture tells all there is, there is nothing more." (as quoted in Maxfield Parrish, p. 143) This, similar to Parrish's single-word title, leaves the work open to interpretation allowing viewers to cast their own personal meaning onto Daybreak.
Oil on board
Property from a Private American Collection
Signed and dated 'Maxfield Parrish 1922' (lower right)
Maxfield Parrish , 20th Century, Paintings, oil, United States of America, figures
New York, Scott and Fowles Galleries, November-December 1925.
San Mateo, California, La Galeria, Maxfield Parrish, 1975, no. 5.
Plainfield, New Hampshire, Maxfield Parrish Museum, 1978-79.
Tokyo, Japan, Isetan Museum of Art, and elsewhere, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, April 20-May 16, 1995, no. 67.
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, The Norman Rockwell Museum, Maxfield Parrish, November 1995-January 1996.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and elsewhere, Maxfield Parrish: 1870-1966, June 19-September 25, 1999.
Cornish, New Hampshire, Cornish Colony Museum, 2004.
Palm Beach, Florida, The Society of the Four Arts, and elsewhere, Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe, January 21-February 20, 2005, no. 8.
26½ x 45 in. (67.3 x 114.3 cm.)
C. Ludwig, Maxfield Parrish, New York, 1973, pp. 48, 53, 74, 101, 122, 127, 135, 142-46, no. 682, illustrated.
P.W. Skeeters, Maxfield Parrish: The Early Years 1893-1930, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1973, pp. 26-27, illustrated.
M. Simpson, S. Mills and J. Saville, The American Canvas: Paintings from the Collection of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, New York, 1989, p. 202.
A. Gilbert, The Maxfield Parrish Poster Book, San Francisco, California, 1989, p. 12, illustrated.
A. Gilbert, The Make Believe Work of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, San Francisco, California, 1990, pp. 57-58, illustrated.
A. Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish: The Masterworks, Berkeley, California, 1992, pp. 15, 17, 33, 150, 154, 160-64, 183, 186, 195, figs. 7-12, illustrated.
L.S. Cutler and J. Goffman, Maxfield Parrish, London, 1993, pp. 8, 17, 57, 64-65, illustrated.
A. Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish: The Poster Book, New York, 1994, p. 16, illustrated.
L.S. Cutler and J.G. Cutler, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, San Francisco, California, 1995, pp. 8, 14, 21, 112-13, illustrated.
L.S. Cutler and J.G. Cutler, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Tokyo, Japan, 1995, pp. 44, 120-21, 166, no. 67, illustrated.
A. Gilbert, Parrish and Photography, Plainfield, New Hampshire, 1998, pp. 1, 9, 29, 79, no. 45, illustrated.
S. Yount, Maxfield Parrish: 1870-1966, New York, 1999, pp. 14-15, 76, 90, 100-08, 138, illustrated.
A. Gilbert, A Place of Beauty, New York, 2000, p. 15, illustrated.
L.S. Cutler and J.G. Cutler, Maxfield Parrish and the American Imagists, Edison, New Jersey, 2004, pp. 8, 10, 76-77, 84, 97, 106, 110, 230-32, illustrated.
A. Gilbert-Smith, et al., Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe, exhibition catalogue, London, 2005, pp. 87-91, 93, 133, no. 8, illustrated.
E. Flacks, Identification and Price Guide of Maxfield Parrish, Portland, Oregon, 2007, p. 178.
Scott and Fowles Galleries, New York, 1925.
Galen L. Stone, acquired from the above, 1925.
Kitty Owen Spence, New York and St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, circa 1940s.
[With]Vose Galleries, Boston, Massachusetts, 1973.
Alma Gilbert, acquired from the above, 1973.
Marie Stauffer Sigall Foundation, Las Vegas, Nevada, acquired from the above, 1974.
Private collection, acquired from the above, 1980.
Sotheby's, New York, 22 May 1996, lot 107.
Jannard Collection, California.
Christie's, New York, 25 May 2006, lot 27.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.