Maurice Prendergast (1858–1924)

Leading figure in early American Modernism; member of the Eight

By Eve Perry

A seminal figure in American Modernism, Prendergast applied the lessons of European modernism to his decorative, mosaic-like scenes of leisurely life at beaches and resorts.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

Born in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1858, Maurice Prendergast moved with his family to Boston in 1868. As an adolescent, Prendergast took courses in mechanical and industrial drawing in Boston public schools and attended one of the city’s Free Evening Drawing Schools for four years. He continued to refine his eye for layout and design as an apprentice producing shop signs for a design firm. In the early 1880s, he was referred to variously as a “designer,” a “painter” and a “decorator” in the Boston directory. Prendergast also spent time refining his skills drawing from direct observation. His brother Charles, also an artist and a longtime companion of Maurice, remembered Maurice frequently sketching views of the countryside surrounding Boston.

Prendergast took his first trip abroad, to England in Wales, in 1886. Accompanied by his brother Charles, he produced small watercolors and sketches of country cottages. In 1891Prendergast studied at the Atelier Colarossi and the Académie Julien. Perhaps more influential on Prendergast than his official fine art training were his travels with the Canadian Impressionist James Wilson Morrice. Morrice introduced him to such seaside resorts as Dieppe and Saint-Malo where Prendergast sketched beach scenes populated by fashionable vacationers. While in France, he was exposed to, and influenced by, the pictorial devices of European modernists like Paul Gaugin and the Nabis, Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard.

Prendergast returned to Massachusetts in 1895 and continued to paint scenes, in watercolor, oil, and monotype, of leisure activity at parks, gardens and beaches. His work attracted the patronage of prominent Boston collectors and in 1898 his benefactors sponsored a trip to Europe where the artist spent time painting in Venice, Siena, and Capri. During this period, he began to unify his compositions rather than divide his subjects and backgrounds as was his practice previously.

In 1900, the Art Institute of Chicago mounted a solo exhibition of his work which led to increased publicity for the artist in the United States. He began to associate with the Eight, the school of artists surrounding Robert Henri in New York, and exhibited with them at the National Arts Club. Prendergast’s involvement with the anti-establishment group evidences his progressive artist leanings and defiance of the predominant academic style of painting. In 1913, Prendergast exhibited at the controversial and momentous Armory Show which showcased the leading avant-garde artists in Europe and America. Seven of his works were hung among the Post-Impressionists and Fauvists from whom he had drawn inspiration during his multiple trips to Europe.

Prendergast moved to New York with his brother Charles in 1914 and set up a studio on Washington Square. He surrounded himself with decorative objects that displayed the same flat patterns that increasingly dominated his paintings. From around 1900, he had started to show a propensity for flat, separated areas of color that combined to form a highly decorative style. By the 1910s he had taken the technique to the point of almost complete abstraction.

Prendergast resided in New York for the last decade of his life. He continued to draw from life, exploring his personalized take on color relationships while basing his compositions on classical models. In 1921, a retrospective of his work was mounted at Brummer Galleries in New York. A reviewer of the exhibition articulated one of the most admired qualities Prendergast possessed, a lasting ability to borrow from the achievements of the European modernists while maintaining the individualism of his own art: “What he had learned at different times had been assimilated and made a source of growth in the art he already possessed.” Prendergast died in New York City in 1924.

II. Chronology

1858 Born in St. John’s, Newfoundland October 10
1868 Moved with family to Boston
1872 worked as a package wrapper at a dry-goods store
1873-77 Attended Free Evening Drawing School at Starr King School
1878 Identified as “clerk” in Boston directory
1879 Employed as designer for J.P. Marshall design firm
1882 Identified as “decorator” in Boston directory
1886 Traveled with brother Charles to England and Whales
1891 Studied at the Académies Colarossi and Julian in Paris
1891-4 Painted in Paris and on the coast of Normandy
1895 Returned to Massachusetts; exhibited work in “Fifty-second Exhibition of the Boston Art Club;” Began work as a designer for W.A. Wilde and Co. and Joseph Knight Co.
1896 Earned critical praise for work exhibited at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Jordan Gallery in Boston
1897 First exhibit at Art institute of Chicago and New York Watercolor Club
1898 Became member of Copley Society of Art
1898-99 Traveled to Italy, painted in Venice, Siena, and Capri; returns to Boston by
way of London and Berlin
1900 Began exhibiting at William Macbeth’s gallery; Gained recognition in US for exhibition at Art Institute of Chicago
1901 Won bronze medal at Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo; worked in New York City
1903 Set up studio with brother Charles in Boston
1904 Exhibited with Robert Henri’s circle of painters at the National Arts Club in New York
1907 Traveled to Le Havre; viewed exhibition of Cézanne’s watercolors, Salon du Champ de Mars and Salon d’ Automne in Paris; painted in Saint-Malo and Paris
1908 Exhibited with the Eight at Macbeth Gallery in New York; arranged studio visits with William Glackens; met Marsden Hartley
1910 Work included in Exhibition of Independent Artists, New York
1911-12 Traveled to Capri, Rome, Florence, Venice, Palermo and Genoa
1912 Elected member of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors; appointed to selection committee for Armory Show
1913 Exhibited at Armory Show
1914 Traveled to France; moved to New York with brother Charles; set up studio on Washington Square—Glackens’ studio located in same house
1915 Exhibited sixty works at Carrol Galleries
1917 First exhibition at Society of Independent Artists
1919 Appointed advisory board member for Society of Independent Artists
1920 Exhibited two paintings at the Venice Biennale
1923 Awarded bronze medal and William A. Clark Prize at Corcoran Gallery of Art exhibition
1924 Died in New York City

III. Collections

Carnegie Institute, PA
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Wash D.C.
Detroit Institute of Art, MI
Lehigh University, PA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Munson-Williams-Proctor Inst., NY
Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA
Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
Williams College Museum of Art, MA
Worcester Art Museum, MA
Museum of Fine Arts, MA

IV. Exhibitions

1830–60 National Academy of Design
1895-06 Boston Arts Club
1896-03 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art
1897-39 Art Institute of Chicago
1900 Macbeth Gallery, New York
1908 Macbeth Gallery, New York
1915 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art; Carrol Galleries
1918-19 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art
1901 Pan American Exposition, Buffalo (medal)
1907-23 Corcoran Galleries Biennial (bronze medal 1903)
1913 Armory Show, New York
1916 St. Botolph Club, Boston
1917-21 Society of Independent Artists
1920 Whitney Museum of American Art; Venice Biennale; Daniel, Montross, and Knoedler galleries
1921 Brummer Galleries (retrospective), New York; Galeries Georges Petit, Paris
1923 Salons of America; Corcoran Gallery of Art
1925 Society of Independent Artists
1928 Whitney Museum of American Art
1936 Society of Independent Artists
1941 Society of Independent Artists
1976 University of Maryland (retrospective)

V. Memberships

New York Watercolor Club
Copley Society of Art
Boston Watercolor Club
Boston Guild of Artists
American Painters and Sculptors
Society of Independent Artists
League of American Artists
New Society of Artists

VI. Notes

Richard J. Wattenmaker, Maurice Prendergast (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994). p.
146.

VII. Suggested Resources

Addison Gallery of American Art. The Prendergasts: Retrospective Exhibition of the Work
of Maurice and Charles Prendergast
. Exh. cat. (Andover, Mass.: Addison Gallery of
American Art, 1938).
Basso, Hamilton. “A Glimpse of Heaven.” Parts 1,2. New Yorker 22 (July 27, August
3, 1946): 24-28, 30; 28-32, 34, 36-37.
Caffin, Charles H. “Pendergast Shows His Happy Art.” New York American,
February 22, 1915, p. 9.
Clark, Carol. American Drawings and Watercolors in the Robert Lehman Collection. (New
York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Princeton: Princeton University Press,
1992).
---------- et al. Maurice Brazil Pendergast, Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné
(Munich: Prestel-Verlag; Williamstown, Mass.: Williams College Museum of Art, 1990).
Gengarelly, W. Anthony and Carol Derby. The Prendergasts and the Arts and Crafts Movement
(Williamstown, Mass.: Williams College Museum of Art, 1989).
Glavin, Ellen M. and Eleanor Green. Maurice Prendergast (College Park, MD.: University
of Maryland, 1976).
Langdale, Cecily. The Monotypes of Maurice Prendergast (New York: Davis and Long, 1979).
Mathews, Nancy Mowll. Maurice Prendergast. Exh. cat, Williams College Museum of Art
(Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1990).
Mecklenburg, Virginia, et al. Metropolitan Lives: the Ashcan Artists and their New
York, 1897-1917
(New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996).
Milliken, William M. “Maurice Prendergast, American Artist.” The Arts 9, no. 4
(April 1926): 180-92.
Milroy, Elizabeth. Painters of a New Century: The Eight and American Art. Exh. cat. (Milwaukee:
Milwaukee Art Museum, 1991).
Pepper, Chalres Hovey. “Is Drawing to Disappear in Artistic Individuality?: A Sketch of the
Work of Maurice Prendergast.” The World To-Day 19 (July 1910): 716-19.
Rhys, Hedley howell and Peter A. Wick. Maurice Prendergast: 1859-1924. Exh. cat.
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960).
Wattenmaker, Richard J. “Maurice Prendergast at the Whitney.” The New Criterion 9, no. 3
(November, 1990): 33-40.
----------. Maurice Prendergast (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994).
Wick, Peter A. Maruice Prendergast Water-Color Sketchbook 1899. (Boston: Museum of Fine
Arts; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960).

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