Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine


Maxfield Parrish's Monumental Landscape, Daybreak, Garners Top Dollar


In 1920, House of Art, an American art publishing firm, commissioned illustrator Maxfield Parrish to paint Daybreak solely for the purpose of reproducing the work as a color lithographic print. The success of the image was staggering, and it became one of the most widely reproduced prints in history. At that time, the American public was so taken with the print that it was estimated that one in every four households owned a copy. In post-World War I America, Parrish was without doubt one of the most popular American illustrators. The release of Daybreak into the marketplace as an affordable print catapulted the artist to national fame and made him an overnight sensation.

The epic popularity of Daybreak lies in Parrish's ability to create an exotic, mystical canvas that would appeal to the general public. Through his signature glazing technique, he was able to create a dramatic landscape, fused with soft, early morning light while at the same time infusing the composition with the bold colors that represented his signature style. The figures bathed in dawn's muted light heighten Parrish's romanticized interpretation of a utopian scene. The rich purple shadows created by the sun's early morning movement creep masterfully over the mountains depicted on the canvas creating a complexity of depth and contrast of illumination for the viewer. Parrish's close attention to detail can be seen in the sharply defined architectural elements and the foliage that is a symphony of texture and pattern. In the left corner behind the foliage, a vibrant blue sky compliments the luminous landscape. Known as "Parrish Blue" by his colleagues, this saturated color produced from layers of pure pigment and varnish was a trademark of the artist and can be seen in many of his most celebrated works.

Serious collectors know Daybreak as an American icon, and it is acknowledged by curators and dealers as Parrish's most celebrated masterwork. Parrish referred to the painting as his "magnum opus" and, indeed, he would captivate the American public with the work for decades to come. "His art print Daybreak (1922) is still the most reproduced art image of all time, exceeding even the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper."(Parrish: A Retrospective, p.44) This past May 25th, Maxfield Parrish once again captivated collectors of American paintings when the original canvas commissioned for the popular print was offered at Christie's auction house in New York. Christie's estimated that it would achieve between $5,000,000 and $7,000,000. The painting was met with exuberance by collectors and bidding catapulted up an astounding $7,632,000. Eric Widing, senior vice president and head of Christie's American Paintings department commented after the sale that the strength of the American Paintings market is reflected in what now stands as the new world record price for Maxfield Parrish achieved by the sale of Daybreak.

Maxfield Parrish’s Daybreak, 1922, courtesy of Christie’s.


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