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Maurice Prendergast - Important Art

American Painter

Maurice Prendergast Photo

Born: October 10, 1858 - St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

Died: February 1, 1924 - New York City, New York

Important Art by Maurice Prendergast

The below artworks are the most important by Maurice Prendergast - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Along the Seine (1892-94)

Along the Seine (1892-94)

Along the Seine was created during Prendergast's first trip to Paris where he was exposed to a wide range of new artistic styles. The majority of his work at this period was painted in watercolors and this image is an important early example of his use of oils.

When not attending art classes he spent a great deal of his time absorbing scenes of Parisian life which he turned into subjects for his paintings, setting a precedent for his later work. The fashionably dressed woman strolling along the river provides an early example of Prendergast's focus on leisure activities and portrayals of clothing. The colors are muted apart from the yellow leaves on the tree and ground and this hints at an early exploration of the impact of color within a composition.

The impact of French Impressionism is present in the image in terms of both style and subject matter and this can be attributed to the influence of painters such as Édouard Manet and the American, James McNeill Whistler.

The Stony Beach, Ogunquit (1896-97)

The Stony Beach, Ogunquit (1896-97)

This work provides a fine example of the crowd scenes that Prendergast often painted, in this instance a sunny afternoon on a Massachusetts beach. Prendergast painted extensively in New England depicting the social spaces of beaches and parks. Working in watercolor, he demonstrates his mastery over the medium, combining detail with a freedom of brushwork. More experimental in style than some of his earlier work, this image is a sensitive response to Post Impressionism.

The complex arrangement exhibits a charming sense of innocence combined with a formal sophistication. The figures are arranged in a flowing line throughout the picture and this rhythm is emphasized by the distribution of vibrant blocks of color - parasols and bright dresses stand out against the other white figures and the rocky shoreline. The red elements of the image draw the eye upwards to the top left of the painting and the flowing lines of the white dresses are reflected in the sails of the yachts. The jewel colors, flattened perspective and decorative style suggests comparisons with tapestry work or mosaics.

Lighthouse at St. Malo (1907)

Lighthouse at St. Malo (1907)

This is one of a number of works Prendergast created based on sights he saw during a trip to St Malo, France in 1907. The same sinuous shapes seen in earlier works continue to be visible but the influence of Pointillism and Fauvism can be noted in the vibrant blues and greens and loose brushstrokes. The group of figures in the foreground and the rocky headland in the background form a static framework to the curving quay which carries the observer's eye across the painting from left to right.

Prendergast selected paintings from the St Malo series to display in 'The Eight' exhibition of 1908.

Canal (1911-12)

Canal (1911-12)

Prendergast toured Italy during the period 1911-12 and this resulted in a burst of activity. He produced many watercolors including more than twenty depictions of the canal bridges in Venice. Fascinated by the colors and sights of the country, he described their effect on his creativity, "Italy is the place for ideas to dance a high step on the paint box."

The Canal is an important example of how his Italian works focused heavily on the architecture of the cities he visited. Here the muted colors of the Venetian buildings form a dominant and geometric framework for the livelier movement of the gondolas and boatmen in the foreground. The curve of the bridge, with its static crowd, forms a barrier between the two elements. The harshness of this delineation is alleviated by the repetition of the splashes of ochre which carry the eye between the two areas. The color occurs in the gondolier's blouse in the foreground and is then repeated on various facets of the buildings.

Central Park (1914-15)

Central Park (1914-15)

This work was finished shortly after Prendergast's move to New York in 1914, although it may have been started some years earlier and reworked. The three horizontal bands running across the painting represent the division of routes in the park between carriages, riders and pedestrians with the vertical elements of the trees linking the bands. There is a strong sense of movement from left to right and right to left across the painting with points of stasis halting the movement at the end of each band so that the eye is not drawn off the edge of the canvas. Despite the muted palette employed there is a pleasing sense of festivity attached to the image.

The figures are presented in a less realistic manner than in earlier works and the objects, while still distinguishable, give way to larger, more abstract forms of densely-packed color. This image demonstrates Prendergast's continued development and experimentation even later in his career as an artist.

Idyll (1912-14)

Idyll (1912-14)

The loosely rendered figures in this work are characteristic of Prendergast's later style in which color and form became more important than realism.

Rich in symbolism, as well as references to classical imagery, this painting highlights Prendergast's command of art history and his deep understanding of European artists and works.

According to Richard Wattenmaker, in this one work alone "[...]Prendergast translated his understanding of Florentine frescoes, Giorgione, Gauguin's elegant Tahitian versions of the Greeks, Renoir's nudes and nude groups, and Puvis de Chavannes into a graceful frieze, combining clothed, semiclothed, and nude figures in a rhythmic sequence recalling but not resembling Gauguin's Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? of 1897. The dry, fresco-like sparkle of color, the emphasis on rich, granular built-up pigment, such as that found in Cézanne's bathers and landscapes that Maurice had scrutinized, merged its rugged texture with an appealing, almost anticlassical "awkwardness" of drawing, with its compact, unconventional placement of three-dimensional figures against a screenlike background."

Related Artists and Major Works

L'Absinthe (1876)

L'Absinthe (1876)

Movement: Impressionism

By: Edgar Degas

Prior to the work of later Realists and the emergence of Impressionism, still life and portrait painting were considered lesser, escapist genres. What Degas achieved with L'Absinthe and similar works expressed something altogether new. This dour scene of two lonely individuals sitting in a café communicates a sense of isolation, even degradation, as they apparently have nothing better to do in the middle of the day. Degas's heavily handled paint further communicates the emotional burden or intense boredom of his subjects. His paintings allude to the oppressive atmosphere of the city and the psychological ennui of its inhabitants. Although Degas continued to reject the Impressionist label throughout his life, his paintings exemplify a similar preoccupation with the portrayal of light and motifs of modern life that were central to the group's work.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86)

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86)

Movement: Post-Impressionism

By: Georges Seurat

Seurat's Sunday Afternoon is perhaps the most famous example of the painting technique known as Pointillism. Although the picture contains the impressionistic elements of light and shadow and depicts the leisure activities of the Parisian bourgeoisie, it is an early example of the artistic reaction to the Impressionist movement. Seurat composed the entire scene from a series of small, precise dots of color. If viewed closely, the painting becomes nothing more than a quasi-abstract array of colors, similar to a needlepoint. When viewed at an appropriate distance, however, Sunday Afternoon comes into focus. Seurat carefully placed each dot in relation to the ones around it in order to create the desired optical effect. He did so in order to bring structure and rationality to what he perceived were the triviality and disorganization rampant in Impressionism.

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897)

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897)

By: Paul Gauguin

Gauguin's late-century magnum opus, painted in Tahiti, communicates a story in three stages from right to left, each stage corresponding to a question in the painting's title, which Gauguin inscribed, notably without question marks, in the upper left corner. The first stage of life, on the far right, is that of childhood; the second stage of young adulthood; the last stage of life's impending closure, here found at the far left, where, according to the artist, "an old woman approaching death appears reconciled and resigned to her thoughts." Unlike earlier attempts by Gauguin, this grand composition, derived partly from a long tradition of "stage-of-life" painting in Western societies, is not explicitly religious but, rather, more personal and obscurely spiritual. This is much in keeping with Gauguin's late-in-life retreat from European society into a culture native to what was then French Polynesia.

In employing such an evocative, yet oblique title, Gauguin alludes to his own increasingly philosophical and mystical tendencies of his mature years. He had always been linked by his contemporaries with a Symbolist movement in painting that was closely allied to French poetry of the 1880s and 90s, but rarely did he, himself, attach overtly philosophical or literary references to his canvases. In Where Do We Come From?, then, Gauguin is apparently looking back on a life spent largely apart from his own social and geographic wellsprings, and perhaps seeking mental, spiritual, and physical grounding in a world he consciously elected to serve as his "alternative reality."


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