Thursday, August 07, 2008


When I was a small child, my grandparents lived with our family. They had separate living quarters, a little like the original 'granny annex' but we came and went and shared a formal living room. In that room there were a number of antiques. Of course then I had no idea of their worth, except that a couple of pieces appealed to me and I was occasionally allowed to touch my favourite, the sculpture of a knight on horseback.

The commanding pieces in the room were two huge framed prints on either side of the fireplace of a curly haired child, called Cupid Awake and Cupid Asleep. These were prints of the photo taken in 1897 by Morris Burke Parkinson of Josephine Anderson. Josephine was the daughter of a friend of Parkinson, a single mother who worked and sometimes left her child in Parkinson's care. Josephine was four when the photos were taken and she continued to model for M.B.Parkinson for many years, some of the photos are in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The later prints of Josephine are also very sought after collectibles. Josephine died in the 1970s.

I spent hours staring at the face of the child in these portraits, the child that I was, thinking they really were a fairy of some kind. After my grand father died in the early 1960s, the pieces were sold by my grandmother, money was a factor I presume, and I didn't really think of them again for years until I was given a large Cupid Asleep print for which my sister found in Ottawa. I wanted the Cupid Awake to match it, but had trouble finding one in a similar size. Then a year or two later I was given a small pair for Christmas, which had been hunted down by a friend who is an antique dealer. I have the original larger Cupid Asleep and now the smaller pair which I framed and now keep as a reminder of those large portraits my grandmother had.

Looking at these photos now, I think how well they would look as drawings. The sepia tones and hand tinted pink cheeks, along with the dramatic lighting would make a lovely exercise in values. I may just try one and see what happens. Carbon pencil or charcoal perhaps...

The smaller pair are, I believe, some of the original prints, dated and signed with copyright while the larger print doesn't have any information on it. The colour in the larger print is a reddish brown while the smaller images are much truer to colour in terms of sepia and the pinked cheeks as well the image quality is much crisper.

Parkinson copyrighted his prints in 1897 and they were distributed by Taber-Prang Art Company of Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1908, The Ohio Art Company began selling metal picture frames in which the Cupid prints were displayed, some of them hand tinted. Sold at Kresge’s, Sears, and Woolworth’s, people bought the frames for the pictures. The Cupids were immensely popular and were seen in millions of homes across the country. In 1938, Ohio Art Company (makers of Etch a Sketch) bought the copyright from Taber-Prang after their bankruptcy. Originally sold for a nickel or dime, the Cupid photos now command high prices, as much as $450 a pair in larger sizes.

A hibiscus was on the Weekly Drawing Thread at WetCanvas and I found myself doing a few minutes of work on it at lunchtimes throughout the week. Flowers are not my forte and never will be, but I still like to test myself and push into the dark zone now and then. :)


Robyn said...

Your cupids would make a beautiful graphite or carbon study, Jeanette. And I never see a weakness in your flowers. This one is very accomplished.

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Sandra Taylor said...

I have 1 picture - 2 heart matting with 2 pictures sized 2-1/2 x 3-3/4 each. In an old stained dark wood frame 8-1/4 x 6-1/4. below pictures of each cupid reads "Copyright 1897 - by M. B. Parkinson". Does anyone know the worth?

Tracy Vintimilla said...

I had to wait wondering how much it is worth and more about MB Parkinson

Kim Greg Ellis said...

We have a picture from M.B Parkinson copywrited 1890 with a chubby girl playing the piano and a quote below "I can't play if you talk" Do you know anything about the history of this picture?