Women of Art History Revisited: Post War Escapist Fantasies in the Illustrations of Maxfield Parrish

Publication Year



Art history, women, Maxfield Parrish, escapist, illustrations, World War


Art and Design | Arts and Humanities | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


The overwhelming devastation of World War I represented disorder and chaos, and seemed to mark the end of Civilization. An end tot he War signaled a grateful retreat from the harsh, unpleasant realities of death and disease, violence, and the sacrifices of daily life, at home and abroad. The escapism that ensued upon the close of the war fed the popular appetite for pleasure, fantasy, and affirmations of life. The manifestations of cultural escapism illustrated that desire to reestablish a sense of Culture and order that the War had disrupted. Because canonical art historical images signified "Culture" and resonated with mass nostalgia for a stable and idealized (even if nonexistent) past, they were readily incorporated. Not any art historical reference, however, could satisfy the longing for pleasure-evoking fantasies and retreats into safer and more civilized havens of the past. Dehistoricized images of women's bodies and "other" cultures were more readily appropriated than history paintings and landscape images to connote exotic, pleasurable, and non-threatening existence--a fantasy world of which one could easily partake. The images of women were void of spatial and national references, thereby neutralizing any audience expectations other than fulfilling visual desire. These dehistoricized images permitted a legitimate model for the representation of desire and sexual freedom and effortlessly lent themselves to recontextualizaiton through post-War popular culture.

Department 1 Awarding Honors Status


Department 2 Awarding Honors Status


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