Maxfield Parrish Illustrated Letters to Henry Bancroft 1884-1909

A Finding Aid to the Maxfield Parrish Illustrated Letters to Henry Bancroft

Helen Farr Sloan Library, Delaware Art Museum

Wilmington, Delaware

Accessioned: Gift of Mary Bancroft, 1951
Extent: 53 items, 2 flat boxes
Access: Unrestricted
Contact Information:

Helen Farr Sloan Library
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE 19806



Biography of Maxfield Parrish
Scope and Contents Note
Description of the Letters


Maxfield Parrish was born into an old Quaker family on July 25, 1870, in Philadelphia. His parents named their son Frederick; he later adopted Maxfield, a family name, as his middle name. Parrish grew up in a cultured environment. He spent two years, 1884-86, in Europe with his parents. During the winter of 1884 he attended classes at Dr. Kornemann’s school in Paris. Parrish continued his education at Haverford College and was graduated from there in 1892. That summer and the next, he spent in Annisquam, Massachusetts, where his father continued to instruct him in art. From 1892 to 1894, Parrish took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under Robert W. Vonnoh and Thomas P. Anshutz.
Parrish also audited some classes of Howard Pyle at Drexel Institute for a short period of time. Pyle reportedly told Parrish to develop his individual style because he had already mastered the technical aspect of illustration. At Drexel, Parrish met his future wife, Lydia Austin (1872-1953), who was an instructor at the school. They married in 1895 and moved to Twelfth and Spruce streets in Philadelphia. Within the month, Parrish departed alone for a two-month trip to Europe to visit the salons and museums.

In 1898, Maxfield and Lydia Parrish established a permanent home in Cornish, New Hampshire, where they built their famous house and studio at “The Oaks.” Parrish was stricken with tuberculosis in 1900 and spent his convalescence at Saranac Lake, New York, and at Hot Springs, Arizona, until April 1902. During his convalescence he continued to paint and in 1903 spent three months on a working trip to Italy and France.
Parrish referred to himself as “a mechanic who paints.” The vases, columns, and other props used in his paintings were made in hi sown machine shop and were very carefully lighted before he began to paint. He was a meticulous draftsman and paid great attention to detail. Consequently, his work has a photographic quality. His fascination with color gives his illustrations an unreal characteristic suitable to his fairytale-like themes. His mastery of the technique of glazing provided an excellent complement to his use of color.

Parrish’s early works were marked by the use of gnome-like characters in medieval costumes. His compositions were densely packed, with castles and walled towers filling background areas. At the height of his popularity, he concentrated on romantic themes that combined medieval and classical elements. By 1931, he had tired of themes of young maidens surrounded by rocks, trees, and water, and from then on his works were landscapes of rural scenes used mostly for calendar and greeting card illustration.

Parrish was a prolific illustrator, whose work appeared in Collier’s, Scribner’s, Book Buyer, Harper’s Weekly, Life, and Ladies’ Home Journal. He also illustrated books and advertisements as well as created posters and murals. He was the popular artist of post-World War I: literally millions of prints of his paintings Daybreak and Garden of Allah were manufactured. Parrish’s work was neglected from the mid-thirties until the mid-sixties, when it was “rediscovered” and acclaimed; he lived to see a revival in the popularity of his paintings and drawings

By Penelope B. Cope


Taken from Elzea, Rowland and Elizabeth H. Hawkes, eds. A Small School of Art: The Students of Howard Pyle. Wilmington: Delaware Art Museum, 1980.

Stuart, John Goodspeed. Young Maxfield Parrish: His Early Illustrated Letters and Sketches. Aurora, CO: T.H. Pickens Technical Center, 1992.

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The collection contains 53 letters and postcards written by Maxfield Parrish to his cousin, Henry Bancroft, mostly during his travels in Europe.

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Folder – Contents

1 – 12 un-illustrated letters, 1902-1909
2 – Illustrated letter, Paris, December
3 – Illustrated letter, Paris, no date
4 – Illustrated letter, Paris, December
5 – Illustrated letter, Paris, December 15
6 – Illustrated letter, London, August 19, 1884
7 – Illustrated letter, Paris, January 20
8 – 2 illustrated postcards: Genoa, Italy, 1886; Lugano, Switzerland, May 4, 1886
9 – 2 illustrated postcards: Paris, October 24, 1884; London, September 12, 1884
10 – Postcard with photograph, 1908, & child’s drawing
11 – 4 envelopes (1 illustrated), 1884
12 – 3 envelopes, 1885, 1902
13 – Illustrated letter, London, May 24, 1886
14 – Illustrated envelope, Paris, December 1884
15 – Illustrated envelope, Paris, November 1884
16 – Illustrated letter, Paris, no date
17 – Illustrated letter, London, October 4, 1885
18 – Illustrated letter, Paris, December 1
19 – Illustrated letter, Paris, no date
20 – Illustrated letter, Venice, c. May 1886
21 – Illustrated letter, Paris, no date
22 – Illustrated letter, London, July 22, 1884
23 – Illustrated letter, St. Raphael, Sunday November 29, 1885
24 – Illustrated letter, Paris, November 7
25 – Illustrated letter, Paris, March 3, c. 1886
26 – 8 envelopes, 1902-1909; 2 postcards, 1908

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