Maurice Prendergast

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Maurice Prendergast, Central Park, probably 1908-10. Oil on canvas, 20 3/4 x 27in. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The following information was copied from pages 430, and 431 in:

 Craven, Wayne. American Art: History and Culture. New York: Abrams, 1994.

Not all members of The Eight were Ashcan painters, the most notable exceptions being Maurice Prendergast and Arthur B. Davies.  Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924) grew up in Boston before going to Paris in 1891, arriving at a time when the impressionists had established themselves and new movements were appearing on the scene, such as seen in the world of the Post-Impressionists and the Nabis.  Prendergast was particularly struck by the decorative treatment of color used in patches to define naturalistic forms.  The works by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) especially appealed to his decorative inclinations.  During his three years in Paris, Prendergast spent much time making watercolor sketches of parks, boulevards, and cafe scenes.

At the turn of the century, Prendergast settled in New York City, where he met William Glackens.  The two men were drawn together by a preference for similar subjects and for the modern French styles of painting.  Soon Prendergast was introduced to other members of the Henri group and began to exhibit with them at the National Arts Club show of 1904 and at MacBeth's in 1908.

The East River (1901, Museum of Modern Art), a watercolor, is an early example of the personal style Prendergast was evolving in which park, river, the far shore, clouds, and sky are all reduced to flickering patches of brilliant color that are only suggestive of natural forms.

This style developed rapidly.  By the time he painted Central Park, Prendergast's  vision had become condensed.  As in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, the stroke of the brush, often dragged over another color, becomes an important component of the aesthetics of the work.  In areas such as the top of the picture, naturalistic form dissolves into sensations of color.

This was, however, as far as Prendergast carried his experiments in color.  He did not disassemble the physical world and them reassemble it, the way the Cubists would a few years later, or the way another American watercolorist --John Marin--would soon do.


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