Samuel L. Parrish (1849 – 1932) was a prosperous NYC attorney who summered in Southampton on Long Island. He was born into a wealthy Quaker family in Philadelphia and attended Harvard, where he developed an interest in Italian art. After graduating, Parrish went to Italy for a year studying Classical and Renaissance art.
In 1877 he opened a very successful law practice in the city of New York. He visited friends and family in Southampton during the summer season and traveled to Italy regularly. While there he decided to open an art museum in Southampton.
To furnish his new museum he bought paintings in Europe, both real and fake, and copies of Classical sculpture. He soon retired and purchased the Rogers Mansion, then on Main Street in Southampton, to be his summer home. He built his museum across the street where he displayed his newly acquired collection. It opened, 125 years ago, in 1898.
A committed philanthropist, Parrish donated land and money for the Southampton Hospital; funded the first paving of Southampton’s Main Street, bought an historic church then remodeled it into a public gymnasium and was a founder of the Rogers Memorial Library. He supported the Shinnecock Summer School of Art lead by American Impressionist William Merritt Chase.
Parrish died in 1932, leaving his museum and his collection to the Village of Southampton but it soon floundered. In 1952 Rebecca Littlejohn, a civic-minded resident, became president of the Parrish Museum board. She began the overwhelming task of reviving the Museum by painting it white.
Littlejohn decided the Parrish collection is out of step with modern art movements and began showing American artists who lived and worked on the South Fork. Over the years most of Parrish’s artwork was sold, damaged or lost.
In 2012 the Parrish Art Museum moved to a new building in Water Mill. The Parrish museum became the Southampton Arts Center showcasing contemporary artists and performers. But Samuel’s collection, out of vogue, languished in storage.
To celebrate Parrish’s legacy, the Southampton History Museum explored the collection in storage and found artwork unseen for many decades. A portion was moved to the Rogers Mansion, his former home, to exhibit both secular and religious copies of artwork made by master crafters in the 19th century.
The Southampton History Museum has announced a new exhibit featuring some forgotten treasures from the Samuel L. Parrish collection, set to open on Saturday, March 18th.
For more information visit the Southampton History Museum website.
Photo: Madonna and Child with Bronzes by Tom Edmonds.