Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Fame has not forgotten Malcolm Parcell, undeniably one of Pennsylvania’s – and America’s – foremost portrait painters of the twentieth century. Although the reclu­sive artist died at the age of ninety-one in March 1987 at his enchanting rural retreat in Washington County, he is still spoken of with affection and reverence as “the grand old man of western Pennsylvania painters.” Fortunate collectors today prize their original works of art by Parcell. His fame continues to spread, attracting even more aficiona­dos. In fact, his paintings are now being sought more than ever before! And even though he never intended it, his home, Moon Lorn, is on the way to becoming a museum.

Regardless of the public’s burgeoning interest in contem­porary art, most of which he deplored, Parcell contentedly lived his last years in virtual seclusion, continuing to paint as he always had, vividly capturing a region’s people and its landscapes, as well as creating fantasy paintings which he called “mythologies.”

Born January 1, 1896, in Claysville, Washington County, Malcolm Stevens Parcell came to prominence in art circles early – and quickly. He showed paintings, mostly traditional portraiture, at the Carnegie Internationals in Pittsburgh beginning in 1922. He won the competition’s coveted Popular Prize in 1924 for Portrait of My Mother and the following year for a depiction of his family, simply entitled Portrait Group. He had also taken a gold medal at the National Academy of Design in New York in 1919 for a likeness of his model (and, later, wife), Helen Louine Gallagher, a Washington, Pennsylvania, elementary school teacher. Yet he never sought recognition or exhibi­tion awards on his own: he either was invited to participate or had his work submitted by friends. “I very seldom sent a work of mine to a competition. Someone else would always do it,” he often said. His talent and his many admirers freed him from the rigors of the gallery system, which he disdained as burdensome.

Beginning about 1950, Malcolm Parcell’s distinctive romantic style fell out of favor with the art community when abstraction and expressionism became the vogue. Unper­turbed and even relieved – but nevertheless loathing abstract art as mostly bad painting – ­Parcell continued to work and to sell. “The work was not appreciated,” he once said. “The whole trend was toward modernism, but it doesn’t bother me because if I had looked at some of the modern art when I was young, I don’t think there would ever have been a desire for me to be an artist.” Until the day he died, collectors journeyed to his studio to buy the glowing works he was never anxious to see leave. After his death his popularity surged in a way he would never have anticipated. Parcell sought no personal memorial other than the immortality of his countless paintings. He wanted his thirteen-and-a-half acre farm near Prosperity, Washington County, which he named Moon Lorn for the effect created when fir trees grew to obscure the moon, to remain in his family. Because Parcell had no children, his dream for the remote, W1worked farm seemed impossible. But a group of friends, admirers, and collectors, who knew the inspiration that the artist had drawn from this little retreat, staged an auction in 1990 of paintings and drawings by Parcell, mostly given by his heirs. Proceeds and donations allowed the organization to purchase Moon Lorn for sixty thousand dollars. The preservation of Malcolm Parcell’s beloved Moon Lorn was initiated.

Malcolm Parcell never sold a painting for more than three thousand dollars during his lifetime, but this auction set a record price of more than twenty thousand dollars for a small but very fine portrait of his wife executed in 1936. A few years earlier, the Carnegie Museum of Art had purchased Return to the Village (circa 1925), a large, flamboyant landscape, for fifteen thousand dollars from a Pittsburgh dealer, who had discovered it being proffered by a Boston gallery during the prestigious Winter Antiques Show in Manhattan.

To the end, and despite the toll of years, Parcell clung firmly to his aesthetic ideals. “I have been most interested in the art and techniques of Titian, Velazquez and John Singer Sargent,” he would say, “and I see no need to change.” He referred to the Italian Renaissance painter Titian (1490-1576), the Spanish baroque painter Diego Rodriguez Velazquez (1599-1660), and the American interpretive portraitist Sargent (1856-1925), all of whom were masters of portrait painting. He had a powerful will and rarely changed his mind. During his final years he often remarked about his age and lamented the fact that he was forced to walk with a cane after stumbling over a log and injuring himself while on a strolling through the woods at Moon Lorn. It was clear to those around him that he would have preferred living in an earlier time. He gloried in the technical prowess that distinguished his work in the twenties and thirties. His style remained rooted in earlier decades. And he continued to retrieve favorite concepts from a seemingly inexhaustible repertory of ideas.

There was no question he preferred the romanticism of his youth to his later years. He saw himself as the last of a breed and entitled a 1984 self­-portrait The Throwback, in which he wears the Saltus Gold Medal for Merit, awarded by the National Academy of Design in 1919 for Louine. “That’s what I am,” he said. “Some­times this place seems like it’s in the seventeenth century. We learn of the world from the newspapers and television.” The Parcells had furnished the house at Moon Lorn with an eclectic mix of furnishings, such as Renaissance Revival furniture, dramatic Oriental rugs, and objects amassed during his rich career. To the artist, Moon Lorn was a self­-contained world in which he wanted for nothing.

At the time of his death Parcell had not ventured into Pittsburgh, an hour’s drive north of Washington, in nearly a quarter of a century. Yet once in the early 1950s, the abstract sculptor James Rosati, a Washington native, took him to New York to meet artist Willem De Kooning. It was a meeting of opposites.

“De Kooning was working on his Women and using house paints on stretched burlap,” Parcell recalled. “‘Don’t you worry about how long they’ll last?’ I asked him. ‘Oh, no. I don’t care how long they last,’ De Kooning said. It struck me as odd for a man to think that way about what he was doing. Most of his stuff is too sloppy for me. I liked Kandinsky and Klee,” he said, referring to Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, compositional abstract painters who had led an artist group in Weimar, Germany, the Bauhaus, that flourished from the early 1920s until 1933.

In his little world at Moon Lorn, administered to by his wife, and after her death in 1983 by his sister-in-law Florence Gallagher Gardei, Malcolm Parcell lived as he wished. He spent his days painting in his A-frame studio; it had no windows to distract him. The oldest part of the house was a cabin built in the late eighteenth century. The studio, a separate structure, was built in 1967 when the Parcells moved from a large studio apartment in down­town Washington, the county seat, to Moon Lorn, near the Washington and Greene counties boundary.

In Washington, Parcell was well known for one eccentricity. He regularly wore skullcaps, cut from women’s old felt hats, which came to a peak on his forehead. At the suggestion of his brother, also an artist, he made his first caps to keep his full head of hair from falling into his eyes as he worked. But he was aware of the impression the caps made. He would be startled on Washington streets to notice people unabashedly staring at him because he had forgotten to take the cap off before venturing out. In his last years Parcell wore a “uniform” of tweed jackets and trou­sers – even during warm summer months. He was buried in them and one of his trademark skullcaps.

Throughout his long career, Parcell saw no advantage in being lionized. He was interested in neither fame nor fortune, although one Pitts­burgh patron and collector characterized his career as “amazing,” adding that he was “a financial and artistic success for more than seventy years.” Five years before his demise, Parcell derided as “froth” an exhibition of his work at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University, organized ex­pressly to introduce him to an audience under the age of sixty. Nevertheless, Malcolm Parcell was – and is – held in as high esteem in southwest­ern Pennsylvania as Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945) is in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Parcell created a wide range of subjects in paintings, drawings, and prints. He painted formal portraits mostly from life, although his best work dates from about 1925 to the early 1950s. One of his most dramatic likenesses is of Frank E. Richardson, Jr., painted in 1948, whose desire to be depicted in his pinks (the traditional scarlet coat worn during fox hunts) as the Master of the Sewickley Hunt was granted by Parcell. For his portrait entitled Mrs. John S. Patton (1926), he required the subject to sit twenty-six times. The artist’s favorite portraits included those of William Frew, president of Carnegie Institute; John B. (“Jock”) Sutherland, the legendary coach of the University of Pittsburgh’s football team; James L. Stuart, head of the Mellon-Stuart Company, general contractor for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C.; and Commander C. McKennon Lynch, founder of a Pittsburgh brokerage firm, depicted in his naval uniform. “Vanity Fair wanted me to paint Mary Pickford, but I never did,” he recalled. “I could paint her. But she was pure childish sentimentalism, a mask of that type of beauty that leaves out sex, which makes it too cold.” He was also asked by actress Katherine Cornell to paint her portrait, but he never did.

In addition to portraits – of which art historians estimate there were hundreds – the artist also concentrated on rural landscapes, genre scenes, murals of historical subjects and, strangest of all, dramati­cally-hued fantasies inspired by the woods around Moon Lorn. Although highly individual, these magical, mysterious landscapes evoke the work of American artist Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966).

Parcell took special studio classes at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University. In 1917, he left without graduat­ing to move to New York, where his elder brother, Lindsey Evans Parcell (1891-1959), was establishing himself as a successful magazine illustrator. He spent a homesick year in New York executing church murals, architectural renderings, and stage sets. He missed Washington, his mother, and Helen Louine Gallagher. After only a year he returned home, glad to be rid of the rigors of an artist’s life in New York. He set up business as a portrait painter and never wanted for sitters, commissions, or collectors. He and Helen lived in a down­town loft until they moved to Moon Lorn full-time in 1967.

Through friends’ interces­sion, a superb Parcell portrait of Helen, entitled Louine, appeared on the cover of Town and Country in October 1919. Other works found their way into such fashionable maga­zines as the old Vanity Fair. Portrait of a Young Woman, which graced the February 1926 cover of International Studio, would later appear in a scene in an 1934 RKO motion picture version of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, starring Bette Davis and Leslie Howard. These were unusual paintings since Parcell was not an illustrator. Harper’s Magazine editors had once asked him, “Why do illustrating when you can paint like that?”

Lindsey Evans Parcell was the illustrator in the family. He conceived and executed covers, paintings, and draw­ings primarily for The Saturday Evening Post, but also for McCall’s, Women’s Home Companion and other leading periodicals. Evans, as he was known, remained in New York until 1928, when he returned home with his wife Estelle Prigg, a native of Washington, Pennsylvania.

Evans Parcell was multi­talented. In addition to being an accomplished painter and illustrator, he was a sculptor, designer, dioramist, drafts­man, miniaturist, and inventor. Upon his return to Pennsylva­nia, Evans Parcell set up a studio, which was destroyed by fire two years later. In the 1930 blaze, he lost completed works of art, paintings in progress, models, materials, and his art collection. But it was Malcolm whose portrai­ture career eclipsed that of his brother’s. Collectors cherish Evans Parcell’s strongly conceived and finely executed works, but he never attained his brother’s level of artistic consistency. Their sister Juanita Parcell (1890-1948), also a talented artist, gave up painting when she married A. J. Martin, later a school principal in Donora, Westmoreland County.

Life in Washington was not always idyllic for Malcolm Parcell. He preferred to be inspired by his subjects, but he also undertook many routine commissions such as portraits of college and corporate leaders. He painted murals devoted to chronicling the history of “Little Washing­ton” – including visits by the Marquis de Lafayette (1757- 1834) and statesman Henry Clay (1777-1852) – for the George Washington Hotel’s popular Pioneer Grill. In 1965, he painted a large mural, Books Are Many Lives to Live, a montage of literary symbols, for the Citizens Library in Wash­ington. For the old Continental Grille of Pittsburgh’s fabled William Penn Hotel (see “A Grande Dame Named William Penn,” by Marianne Lee in the spring 1991 edition), he created The Judgment of Paris, the whereabouts of which are unknown. Parcell believed his mural for the Sealbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, was his best, although such commis­sions, he said, were not among his favorites.

Malcolm Parcell immensely enjoyed working on portraits of attractive women. He had a special flair for capturing their beauty and mystery. His favorite subject, and model, was his wife, whom he painted many times throughout the years. Helen was the inspira­tion for Parcell’s voluptuous blondes who occupied seductive landscapes in a variety of roles – from wood­land goddesses to nursing mothers. He also completed a suite of erotic drawings of himself and Helen (which have yet to be publicly exhibited). Even in her eighties Helen served as the filter through which Parcell viewed women.

To fully appreciate Malcolm Parcell, art historians and critics believe it is necessary to recognize his love of the land and his family’s long associa­tion with Washington County. He was conservative about many issues, but about life and the hereafter he was the consummate free thinker. “Although my father was a Baptist minister, I have never been able to accept church or orthodox religion,” he would say shortly after his eighty­-ninth birthday. “I have great respect for those who do, but I have never been able to feel the necessary worshipfulness. Even so, I feel with H. G. Wells, an agnostic, that the Bible is the best guide man has been given to follow.”

Malcolm Parcell was a romantic realist, but never a sentimentalist. An eclectic painter, he was happy painting a street scene in summer, a cottage in winter, or depicting autumn’s bright foliage. To the end he was a sensualist, a fatalist, a limner. But most of all he was his own man.

Fame has not forgotten the Master of Moon Lorn.


Buoyed by the success of the 1990 auction of works by the late Malcolm Parcell, admirers immediately formed a nonprofit organization to maintain the artist’s beloved rural retreat, Moon Lorn, as a house-museum and art center. After replacing the roof on the house and a stockade fence, leaders of the Malcolm Parcell Foundation have begun focusing on building membership. Individuals desiring additional information are encouraged to write: Malcolm Parcell Founda­tion, Post Office Box 1416, Washington, PA 15301; or telephone (412) 228-1642.


For Further Reading

Chew, Paul A., ed. Southwest­ern Pennsylvania Painters. Greensburg, Pa.: Westmoreland Museum of Art, 1989.

Edwards, Paul B. Lindsey Evans Parcell Retrospective. Washington, Pa.: Washington and Jefferson College, 1985.

Miller, Donald. Malcolm Parcell: Wizard of Moon Lorn. Pittsburgh: Donald Miller, 1985.

Richman, Irwin. Pennsyl­vania’s Painters. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania Histori­cal Association, 1983.


The author and editor wish to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Vincent Edwards of Washington, Pennsylvania, photographer and collector, who graciously provided both color and black and white images to illustrate this piece. The editor wishes to thank Lester E. Zimmerman of the Zimmerman Gallery, Washington, Pennsylva­nia, for providing background material documenting the life and career of Malcolm Parcell. The Zimmerman Gallery represented Malcolm Parcell from 1983 until his death in 1987, and now represents the estate of the artist.


Donald Miller, art and architec­ture critic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has been with the newspaper for nearly forty years. He received his bachelor’s degree and master of arts degree in art history from the University of Pittsburgh. He has taught art history at Carnegie-Mellon University and lectures fre­quently. In 1985 he wrote and published Malcolm Parcell: Wizard of Moon Lorn. He discovered the painting talent of Paul Warhola, Andy Warhol’s elder brother. His article on graphite artist Brice Miller (no relation) of Woodbury, Bedford County, appeared in the September 1993 issue of American Artist.