Maurice Prendergast: Biography and Central Park in 1903

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“Central Park”, Maurice Brazil Prendergast, ca. 1914–15 , The Met Fifth Avenue

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 772

Prendergast and “Central Park”

“Prendergast captured the park’s festive energy on a summer day and suggested, with broad horizontal bands, the tripartite traffic system that accommodated carriages, horses with riders, and pedestrians. The painting, once titled “Central Park in 1903,” may have been begun in that year and later reworked. It shows women in the types of dresses and hats that were stylish in 1903 and horse-drawn carriages as opposed to the automobiles and bicycles that appeared shortly thereafter. Prendergast’s dense pigments, juxtapositions of complementary colors, and whirls of form indicate the influence upon him of contemporary Synchromist painting.”

Quote from The Met

Who Is Maurice Prendergast?

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Prendergast in 1913, photo by Gertrude Käsebier

Maurice Prendergast (1858 – 1924) was an American Post-Impressionist artist who worked in oil, watercolor, and monotype. 

He briefly exhibited as a member of The Eight,  though his style differed from the artistic intentions and philosophy of the group. His work was influenced by Fauvism, Impressionism, Pointillism, Post-Impressionism, and Realism,.

“Although working in a range of mediums including oils and monotypes (a print taken from a design created in oil paint or printing ink on glass or metal), he often painted with watercolors and is known for his expertise with these, particularly his flowing technique and unusual use of strong colors”Art Story

 

 

Despite a lengthy search,

I have not been able to find a self-portrait

of Maurice Prendergast.

I might just love this man.

 

His Unique Style

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Central Park, detail

He wanted to be an artist from a young age,  but initially made his living lettering show cards for the theater. Unlike some other artists who began their artistic studies  early, Prendergast was unable to afford formal art training or foreign travel until he was in his thirties. By the time he enrolled in the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi in Paris in 1891, dramatic changes in the art world were revolutionizing French painting. (NGA)

Growing up in the South End, Boston, he was apprenticed as a youth to a commercial artist. The apprenticeship exposed him to the brightly colored, flat patterning  that characterized his highly personal and easily identifiable style in maturity.   Radically simplified and presented in boldly contrasted flat areas of bright, jewel tones, his forms almost look like mosaics.

When not at work, Prendergast studied mechanical drawing and attended free evening art classes. Art Story

According to Art Story,

“Fascinated by people and busy scenes, his work is reflective of contemporary ideas pertaining to health, leisure, and the benefits of the outdoors and he often presented a utopian take on the sights he painted.”

 

This tapestry – like effect, as well as his mastery of color,

are why his paintings are so appealing to me.

 

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“Central Park”, Maurice Brazil Prendergast, ca. 1914–15 , The Met Fifth Avenue (detail)

What Influenced Prendergast?

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Prendergast, Central Park, detail

Boston, Paris, and Venice – these were all locations where Prendergast had the opportunity to meet other artists who influenced the development of his own artistic style.

According to Art Story,
“Prendergast drew inspiration from the work of European Post Impressionists and he was a leading figure in introducing these new concepts and styles to American audiences. He was particularly interested in color and his use of bold pigments make a vibrant statement throughout his work, highlighting emotional and pictorial elements.”

Initially Prendergast was influenced most by the works of Edouard Manet and  American painter James McNeill Whistler, but he soon found inspiration from other sources, most notably Paul Cézanne and the Nabis painters-  Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard. Like them, Prendergast found his subjects in the everyday life of Parisian parks and streets as well as in the colorful scenes at nearby resorts.(NGA)

In addition, Prendergast was one of the first Americans to espouse the work of Paul Cézanne and to understand and utilize his expressive use of form and color. (wikipedia)

1891 – 1898

By the time he enrolled in the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi in Paris in 1891, dramatic changes in the art world were revolutionizing French painting.(NGA) 

Three and a half years in Paris in the early 1890’s exposed him to the work of the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and Nabi. Prendergast studied in Paris at the Académie Colarossi with Gustave Courtois and Benjamin-Constant.

His Post-Impressionist ties were firmly established with his acquaintance with Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard. He also studied the work of Vincent van Gogh and Georges Seurat at retrospectives held in Paris in 1891 and 1892.

In a trip to Venice in 1898, he saw the genre scenes of Vittore Carpaccio and experimented with  more complex and rhythmic arrangements. Works arising from this period – inventive watercolors of Venice – are among his most appreciated works today wikipedia

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Central Park, detai

What About “The Eight”?

Though he did have a brief association with “The Eight”, he had little in common with them in style or content. They both shared, however, an opposition to the academic bias and restrictive exhibition policies of the powerful, conservative National Academy of Design.

His Style Matures

According to the National Gallery of Art,

“Returning to Boston in 1895, Prendergast joined his brother Charles in his recently established framing business. He gradually began to build a reputation as a painter, initially concentrating on watercolors because the materials required were less expensive than those needed for oils. A pronounced emphasis on surface pattern, which would become a hallmark of his mature work, was evident from his earliest works.” (NGA)

Video: His Works

 

“The love you liberate in your work is the only love you keep.”

Maurice Prendergast

 

His Legacy

“Maurice Prendergast played a key role in the development of Modernism in America. His ability to absorb and adapt the tenets of European Modernism into his own distinctly color-focused style introduced the American public and other artists to Post Impressionism. Whilst his own work retained strong European influences, he gave subsequent generations of American artists the opportunity to take and develop his ideas into a more specifically American style. In addition, he had a thematic influence on many artists who echoed Prendergast’s use of images of leisure activities and recreational spaces.” quote from Art Story

As highlighted by in a 1990 New York Times Review,

“Prendergast comes across as an American original, an artist who eagerly absorbed the latest in French painting without losing his head. This is rare … when so many American painters produced belated reprises of French Impressionism. And it is all the more impressive considering that he was a man of limited education who supported himself as a commercial artist until he was 32 years old.”

Click for Enlarged Detail

Best viewed At Sunnyside – Where Truth and Beauty Meet

 

Conclusion

According to The Met,

“America’s most distinctive Post-Impressionist, the well-traveled Maurice Prendergast, settled in New York with his artist-brother Charles in 1914,.. Deeply influenced by the work of Paul Cezanne and the Fauves, the French-trained Prendergast captured the energy of city life in this tapestry-like park scene of rich color and form.”

The End

Thanks for reading! 🙂


Details:

  • Title: Central Park
  • Artist: Maurice Brazil Prendergast (American, St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1858–1924 New  York
  • Date:  ca. 1914–15
  • Medium:  Oil on canvasDimensions:  20 3/4 x 27 in. (52.7 x 68.6 cm)
  • Credit Line:  George A. Hearn Fund, 1950
  • Timelines   The United States and Canada, 1900 A.D.-present

Sources:

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. JMN says:

    Fabulous. So glad you’ve featured Prendergast. His work is utterly ravishing. This post teaches me much more than what I knew (love the detail shots). I studied for a year, age 14, with an artist named Simon Michael. He remarked once that something I was doing reminded him of Prendergast. I was so flattered that he would compare me to anyone that the name engraved itself in my brain. I left painting behind for too long to excel now, but I’d love to break through from painting depictively to painting expressively (like Prendergast). I too like the influences cited for him — I love the Fauves, for example. It’s presumptuous, but I feel on his wavelength! Thanks again for this wonderful detailed post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How exciting to be compared to him! I have long thought he deserves more attention – always in my top three of ones that bring me greatest joy. In fact, I felt like I was defending a special friend when I read the entirety of the NYTimes article cited at the bottom. On the balance, the tone was condescending and really got my dander up. 😉

      Anyway, many thanks for the kind words. I am still waging war with the formatting, so wasn’t sure it was even readable yet.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. JMN says:

        I’m sure Simon Michael was being more encouraging than objective in mentioning Prendergast. I wasn’t a prodigy! I returned to your post to read the NYTimes article and got an error message — it couldn’t serve the page. I’d like to see what she said. I too think Prendergast should get more prominence. You’ve certainly done him credit here. No evidence of formatting problems to my eye.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh dear, I have no explanation for the Times article not showing. I checked the link again and my browser opens without problem. It is in the 1990 archive and I do not have a subscription, so it should be a public page. (?) It is an interesting read, though, despite ruffling my feathers a bit. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      3. JMN says:

        I’ll track it down. I do subscribe. You’ve stimulated my curiosity about Prendergast.

        Liked by 1 person

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