Saturday, December 09, 2006


This illustration by Maxfield Parrish recently sold for $7.6 million, making somebody very wealthy. Parrish could've used some of that money toward the end of his career, when he fell out of favor with the public.

After Parrish died, two rival art dealers entered into a bitter tug of war over his artwork. The battle raged in angry lawsuits from coast to coast. (cf Cutler v. Gilbert) Each dealer claimed to be protecting the Parrish legacy as charges of fraud, counterfeiting, slander, libel and profiteering flew back and forth. Among the accusations traded in the Boston Globe:

One of the dealers was a "convicted swindler" who pleaded guilty to a felony.

One of the dealers was selling fake Parrishes to unsuspecting buyers

One of the dealers was reproducing Parrish's art without permission

One of the dealers defrauded a store owner by charging $10,000 for the right to call her store the "Parrish Connection" and use the artist's signature as its logo.

One of the dealers was trying to create a monopoly to control Parrish reproductions out of pure greed.

One of the dealers burned down Maxfield Parrish's house

Sometimes being a shrewd art dealer pays better than being a talented artist. One of these fine ladies lives in a mansion modeled partially after the palace at Versailles. The other ran several corporations (sometimes going under the pseudonym "La Contessa De La Gala"). Both were moved by the beauty of Parrish's art to fight over his copyrights like two scorpions in a bottle. Meanwhile Parrish slumbered peacefully beneath the soil.

It's hardly news that illustrators are commercially exploited. Art that never found its way back to the artist from the printer today sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A Rockwell just sold for $15.4 million. An N.C. Wyeth sold for $2 million.

Meanwhile, young illustrators face new kinds of adversity, as they struggle with clients who demand work "for spec," or find themselves competing with ready made stockhouse images. It's a difficult career. As Dan Pelavin wrote:

Illustration as a career is most successfully pursued by those to whom no other option is acceptable. It takes that kind of motivation to overcome the inevitable and constant stream of obstacles. Some frankness about the nature of the illustration market and the people an illustrator will have to work for would go a long way in discouraging all but the most foolhardy and desperate from pursuing this glamorous and enviable career.

So what's in it for the artist? What consolation can he or she take from this historically unfair process? I'm not sure, but I suspect the deal is that artists get to look out of their eyes onto a world like this:

Perceiving the world the way an artist does may not help much when it comes to buying a house that looks like Versailles or even feeding your family, but it is not totally without its rewards. As Erica Jong wrote:
In a society in which everything is for sale, in which deals and auctions make the biggest news, doing it for love is the only remaining liberty. Do it for love and you cannot be censored. Do it for love and you cannot be stopped. Do it for love and the rich will envy no one more than you. In a world of tuxedos, the naked man is king. In a world of bookkeepers with spreadsheets, the one who gives it away without counting the cost is God.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if I entirely agree with Erica Jong--in order to achieve that kind of mastery, you have to spend a LOT of time on the work, and how can you do that if you don't make any money at it? We are all material beings, we all have material needs that cost money. if anyone is going to make money on the piece, It should be the artist. Maybe not all the money, but a good deal of it, at least enough to live on. And as far as that goes, Parrish had it pretty good amongst artists. I've got books of his work from both of the cat fighters you mentioned. The work in question will outlive both of those bitches by a long shot, I'll guarantee you that. Nobody will remember them soon enough.

I know several outstanding realist painters on the scene today (and I mean OUTSTANDING!). Almost all of them paint pretty nothings for the market, or they have to make money teaching workshops to do the art they like and were born to do. Either way they lose time. A tragedy of lost time. And the sad thing is that there is no lack of money. Just a lack of taste, education, and a true appreciation of what is being done by these people. Art is not produced for the common man, but for specialist art critics, investor/speculator//collectors, and art gallery owners. And done on a speculative piecework basis. Any sort of patronage, a guaranteed income in return for a year's worth of work, lets say, is completely gone. Ridiculous, but true.

As far as contemporary illustration, it is a shadow of what you are presenting here. Mostly its caricature, editorial work, and what I call "Three's Company" type of related thing-montages. Nothing like the work of yesteryear. The only illustrator today that I see that could stand with the greats of the past is Gary Kelley. There might be a couple of others, but its mostly a wasteland.

The only way I can see a really good creative type doing that kind of work today is if they somehow had a part-time job and spent 40 hours a week painting their own work, and could endure the non-attention of the galleries and public. Lovers, as Erica Jong would say. I sure hope there are some out there. No way I would be an illustrator today. Few care at all about the picture--the illustrator is just an expense. Commercial art is almost dead, maybe breathing a bit in animation and couple of other spots, but mostly dead. I still love it though.

Thanks for another thoughtful post David.

theory_of_me said...

Erica Jong is full of it. In a world of tuxedos, the naked man is thrown out of the party while the rich have a sweet chuckle.

Show me one person who does it for the love and holds no bitterness whatsoever. That is a fantasy.

Anonymous said...

A version of this illustration was used by the band The Moody Blues for the art cover of "The Present" (1983).

David Apatoff said...

Brian, many of my artist friends say they disagree with Erica Jong. Yet, few of them have the stomach to squabble over commercial rights or used scorched earth litigation the way their business counterparts do. When push comes to shove, most artists would rather nurse their wounds, turn back to the easel and work on creating the next image. They don't fight to the death the way the two dealers I mentioned seem to do.

I agree that artists don't actually work for "free" becaue they don't give away their services, but the important point is that when artists live their lives in a way that demonstrates that the beauty means more than squeezing the last dollar out of the transaction, it makes the investment bankers (at least the brighter ones) worry about missing out on something they can't have.

Irene Gallo said...

David - This week's installment is both sobering and inspiring...,,,And, once again, a pleasure to read.

David Apatoff said...

Thank you, Irene. One of the things I enjoy most about your Art Department blog is that you and the organizations you discuss-- the Society of Illustrators or Illustration House, for example-- treat artists with such respect and affection. You always seem willing to extend a helping hand. It's a welcome relief from a lot of the predatory behavior out there, and I'm sure the artists appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

"Glamorous" career?!

(The rest of that quote was spot-on, though.)

Anonymous said...

I would like very much to see a copy of the lawsuit, and understand the battle more completely. Can you provide a link to more information? It's fascinating! Thanks for posting it.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous, there were at least three competing lawsuits filed, one in federal district court in New Hampshire and two in state court in California (kind of like the battle between the east coast and west coast rappers). The unpublished New Hampshire court decisions can be accessed through Westlaw but unfortunately there is no website to link to. The district court recounted the allegations but ultimately dismissed the lawsuits filed by Cutler in favor of the west coast proceedings filed by Gilbert. The New Hampshire allegations were also reported in the Boston Globe in 1995. The Globe interviewed several parties (although Gilbert refused to speak on the record). The snarling allegations between art lovers were really quite extraordinary. The docket sheets from the Gilbert litigations in California show that the litigations continued for years, but ultimately settled.

David Apatoff said...

For those (like anonymous) who would like more information about the legal proceedings, I can add the following: The decisions in these cases were unpublished, and some of the testimony was sealed as confidential under California Civil Code Section 3426.5. However, the civil dockets for the two California cases are CIV0003888934 Alma Gilbert et al vs. Brom(from 12/19/1994 through 11/30/2001) and CIV387886 Alma Gilbert et al v. Pomegranate Publications et al (from 6/11/1996 to 12/27/2000). The docket sheets detail a series of filings that explain the course of the litigation.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your excellent commentary about MP.

Dali's Car used it for their 1985 album cover. Dali's Car was Peter Murphy from Bauhaus.

As a Maxfield Parrish heir I can tell you we have received nothing in royalties from any MP sales, IP contracts, or the Maxfield Parrish Family Trust.

Christopher Austin Parrish Fitts

David Apatoff said...

Thanks for weighing in, Christopher. I am sorry, but not surprised, to hear that the Parrish family does not benefit from his work.

Anonymous said...

A different perspective-

I never witnessed the lawsuit battle that occured, but understand some of the aftermath to the "winning party." Alma did not get "rich" off the lawsuit. Instead she used the money from the lawsuit to start a museum dedicated to Maxfield Parrish and the other Cornish Colony Artists. For nearly 10 years she has self-funded this museum, to the detriment of her own personl finances. Unlike the RI illustrators Museum, the Cornish Colony Museum is open to the public at a reasonable $6 entrance fee. She just finished curating a national exhibit on Maxfield Parrish, which has lead to new records for the sale of Maxfield Parrish paintings. It was her devotion to raising awarness of Maxfield Parrish's art that lead the former owner of Daybreak to donate $300,000 to the museum foundation so it could have a permanent home in Windsor. In reality, this $300K would never ended up with the museum if a true art broker like the Cutlers were involved. Instead it would have been their brokering fee. Alma's commitment to the Cornish Colony, and specifically Maxfield Parrish will be an enduring legacy, long after the Cutlers and other art brokers fade into obscurity. In the coming years Alma will be curating a national exhibit on the Cornish Colony as a whole. This show will raise the awarness of those artists that are known, but whose works remain relatively under appreciated. It is the goal of the museum to be a permanent legacy to the Cornish Colony artists that compliments the Saint Gaudens National Historic site, across the river in Cornish, NH.

Unknown said...

Anyone wishing to study the litigation Alma Gilbert has pursued or inspired can visit Special Collections at Dartmouth College, where at least some of the paperwork has been deposited. The furor between the two Parrish-admiring factions has apparently prompted Dartmouth to disavow the ownership of artistic rights to its Parrish collections, for which it paid the four Parrish children (or their widows) a pretty penny.

Unknown said...

Your particular insight in critiquing the work of Maxfield Parrish as well as the other
blogs which you have posted regarding other artists is so informative and of educational value to me. A number of years ago I had purchased an original pastel which subject matter turned out to be "Primative Man" which was executed by Maxfield Parrish. My original is signed by E. R. Mead. I have yet to find any other work by this artist. I had contacted Alma Gilbert and she had nothing to add to my inquiry. My pastel lacks the advertisement as seen on the Parrish creation for Masda. I believe that my item was created in the 1920's and is still in it's original frame which was indicative of that time period.
At present I only have a photo of the work in it's framed form. I had to remove and clean the glass due to the great amount of pastel which was transferred to the glass. If necessary I can remove the glass again to take better pictures. The measurements of the pastel are 9"x 15"
Many thanks for any consideration.