In the summer of 1884, fourteen year old Frederick (Maxfield) Parrish (1870-1966) arrived in London. The young illustrator would spend two years abroad with his parents traveling to various cities and recording his experiences in a series of letters to his friend and cousin, Henry Bancroft. Parrish’s letters reveal unique details of continental travel, popular culture, and societal values at the end of the 19th century from a distinctly American perspective. The accompanying illustrations provide visual endorsement to the written text, further emphasizing the opinions, attitudes, and beliefs expressed. The letters reveal an innate—even impulsive—desire to describe, which manifests itself simultaneously in text and image. These early attempts to convey a place or event to the reader foreshadow the sophisticated renderings that gained Parrish such a broad audience later in life as the leading commercial artist of the early 20th century.
Parrish was born and raised in Philadelphia. Prior to his departure for Europe, he spent one year at Swarthmore Preparatory School, which his older cousin, Henry, also attended. Parrish received early artistic instruction from his father, Stephen, who was an engraver and painter. His European travels provided him with a visual repertoire which he relied upon throughout his successful career. The imaginary world of kings and queens, medieval castles and ancient architecture featured in his mature work all hark back to this European tour.