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Daybreak

Artist: Maxfield Parrish
Created: 1922
Format: Oil on board
Location: Private collection



It was the decorative art sensation of the 1920s. It netted Maxfield Parrish a staggering $100,000 in royalties in its first two years of print sales. The piece was Daybreak, and it is Parrish's best-remembered, and is believed to be the most-sold art print in history.

Maxfield Parrish (born Frederick Parrish) was a commercial illustrator and serious artist. He got his break painting light, decorative art for Edison Mazda Lamp calendars. By 1905, he was never at a loss for work, commanding sometimes as much as $2,000 for commissions. His trademark became fantastic subjects executed with the studied symmetry and balance of classical and Renaissance art. Daybreak is a fine example of this motif.

Daybreak was carefully laid out, following Jay Hambridge's principle of Dynamic Symmetry. The foregrounded portico and columns are perfectly balanced, a stage on which the two women are presented to the viewer (Parrish had a third figure present in several sketches, but decided the construction was too crowded). The women are rooted in classical tradition, especially the standing girl, her nude form recalling scenes from Greek mythology. Interestingly, she was modeled by Parrish's own daughter, Jean; the reclining maiden is Kitty Owen, the granddaughter of none other than William Jennings Bryan. Anchoring this refined foreground is a fantastic backdrop: a brilliant azure blue lake and enormous mountains bathed in the warm, honey-like rays of the rising sun.

Parrish fussed over the reproductions of this work substantially, but the results were worth his trouble. The soft, gentle light of the foreground, the radiant color of the water, and the almost surreal quality of the mountains were all preserved with utmost accuracy. The prints proved more popular than he ever could have imagined, and cemented his status as the premier commercial artist of his day.



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