Stephen Maxfield Parrish Biography

Stephen Maxfield Parrish




Printmaker and painter Stephen Parrish was born Stephen Windsor Maxfield Parrish in Philadelphia on July 9, 1846, the son of devout Quakers. Though he didn't pursue art until later in life, his fascination with printmaking and his years of exposure to the artform through trips to museums in France and England gave him insight into the medium. From age 30 until experiencing a debilitating stroke in his 80s, he was a prolific exhibitor who gained a reputation as one of America's leading printmakers of the Etching Revival era. From Stephen Parrish: Rediscovered American Etcher:

"His parents tolerated his childhood love of art and did not object when he made a brief trip to Europe in 1867, mainly to spend time at the Paris Exposition and the museums of Paris and London. Back in Philadelphia, he ran a coal business and then a stationery shop for several years, married in 1869, and his only child, Frederick Maxfield, was born in 1870.

In 1877 he decided, in spite of his lack of formal training, to become an artist. This was a daring move, since he sold only six paintings by 1879, and he had a wife and a nine-year-old son to support. Luckily, the 'Etching Revival' was just starting in America, and in November 1879 he took his first etching lesson from the already successful Philadelphia artist, Peter Moran. As he wrote so many years later, he really did take to it like a duck to water.

Parrish quickly found his best subject matter in the landscape of Eastern North America, particularly the harbors and villages of New England and Canada. As a leading critic wrote in 1883: 'Mr. Stephen Parrish, whom I should the very first rank of our ...etchers, and who is the most popular of them especially associated with seaboard scenes. Our ragged fisher-villages, with their rocky foundations and primitive vessels, have found in him a first and most clear-voiced interpreter.'

"Parish's timing was excellent, since he discovered he loved a medium for which he had a natural aptitude just when the market was cresting. He spent the next 11 years making etchings in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Because Parrish frequently returned to earlier sketches and drawings, etchings of places he had traveled to generally appear throughout his etching career rather than just at the time of his visits." (Schneider, Rona. 1999, Woodmere Art Museum, Germantown, PA)

Memberships included the New York Etching Club and the Society of Painter-Etchers of London. Parrish exhibited in the USA in New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia; in Britain in London and Liverpool; and in Europe in Paris, Munich, Dresden, and Vienna. He married Elizabeth Sprouse in 1869 and their only child, Maxfield, would go on to have a successful career as a painter and illustrator. Stephen Parrish died on May 15, 1938, in New Hampshire.