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Holding Light in their Hands

The Lantern-Bearers by Maxfield Parrish(1870-1966)

Originally painted as the frontispiece for Collier’s Magazine’s December 10, 1910 issue.

In 1895 Maxfield Parrish was asked to illustrate the cover of Harper’s Bazaar’s Easter issue. His work was so popular, many of the major magazines of the day, including Life, and Ladies’ Home Journal, hired him to create original magazine covers for them. Parrish would paint an oil painting for the cover, the magazine would print it, and he would get to keep the oil original. Today, most of these covers, if not all, are recognized as works of art, and the oil originals are priced accordingly.

Why did Parrish choose to paint lanterns as a subject? He was obsessed with depicting light: at dawn, at dusk, in a shady forest, on a bright snow-covered mountain. Lanterns must have presented a new challenge and source of excitement for him. Light emanating from a lantern is not like natural light. It has a hypnotic glow that draws us in. The character of the glow is modulated by the color of the lantern paper. The color of the lanterns here is very difficult to describe. It’s not a sunshine-y yellow, although the lanterns look like miniature suns. It’s more like the color of the full moon when it first rises. Parrish would have to agree, as he placed a full moon exactly the same color as the lanterns behind the branches of the tree. What a lovely comment. It’s as though he is saying, “I can capture the moon.” More than 40 years after his death, it’s still true.

From Christie’s auction house:

The Lantern Bearers
signed and dated ‘Maxfield Parrish 1908.’ (lower left)
oil on canvas laid down on board
40 x 32 in. (101.6 x 81.3 cm.)

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