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"Daybreak" by Maxfield Parrish (1922)

How Art Shapes Our Lives – A Golden Age of Illustration

During the 1850’s our ancestors were beginning to experience many good effects brought on by the industrial revolution. For example, the development of high-speed printing presses quickly lead to an astonishing “enlightenment-of-the-masses.” Books, periodicals and newspapers, which all were beginning to include illustrations, were becoming prevalent.

“Saying Grace” by Norman Rockwell

This phenomenon can easily be attributed to the many advances in printing technology that was to continue through the next several decades. Innovations such as the line-engraving process coupled with an ability to produce inexpensive paper and the development of new wood-engraving techniques, (for woodcut printing), were just some of the things that were evolving.

Similar to our present day information and social networking booms, the people of that time were also looking to broaden their horizons, and enjoy more of what the world had to offer. The many improvements to the efficiency of printing allowed publishers to pay higher fees to their illustrators. As a result, they were able to attracted some very good artists.

This new kind of artisan, the artist/illustrator, was commissioned to embellish fiction and non-fiction alike. As a type of narration, there mission was to enhance the writing by providing a visual aid that corresponded with the content.

The Golden Age of Illustration — roughly 1880-1920 — is considered by many to be one of the greatest eras of American art. During this time illustrative art became a vital and popular art form in itself.

This unique era made it possible for artists to reach multitudes with their portraits of American aspirations and daily life.

One of these artist/illustrators in particular was an important figure in American art history. Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966), was a New Hampshire painter, machinist, inventor and sometimes illustrator for Colliers, Life and many other magazines throughout the 1910s & 1920s. He is best known for his neo-classical imagery and the use of “saturated” hues.

“Breezing Up” by Winslow Homer

One of Parrish’s inventive techniques involved applying layers of thin, transparent paint which alternated with layers of varnish; a technique called glazing. This gave his original paintings a very unique three-dimensional effect of stunning color. The effect of these paintings could never be fully appreciate while viewing copies on magazine covers or posters, but they are dazzling none the less.

The color Parrish Blue, which was first achieved through this glazing process, was so named in his honor.

Some other important artist/illustrators include: Winslow Homer (1836-1910), Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), John Sloan (1871-1951) and William Glackens (1870-1938).

These diverse and talented artists brought real meaning, in a very entertaining way, to whatever written content they were trying to augment.

Some of the original artworks used for these illustrations are extremely valuable. In 2013 one of Norman Rockwell’s paintings, “Saying Grace,” sold for an astounding $46,000,000.

On a local note, I would also like to mention that with a long history of devotion to our beloved Yosemite Park, The Yosemite Conservancy continues to enlighten. As an altogether separate entity this nonprofit concern works very closely with the National Park Service. Among other things, this wonderful philanthropic organization offers art programs and publishes great books to do with our park.

I recently came across one such book, The Nature of Yosemite, A Visual Journey, by photographer Robb Hirsch. The book was just released this month (Sept. 10) and contains some of Robb’s amazing photography of Yosemite.

Here is a link to the book on the Yosemite Conservancy site: https://www.yosemiteconservancystore.com/prod-235-1-2060-15/the-nature-of -yosemite-a-visual-journey.htm.

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