Friday, August 16, 2013

Maurice Prendergast: By the Sea

An exhibition at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art explores for the first time Maurice Prendergast's lifelong fascination with the seaside in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first retrospective of Prendergast's work in over two decades, Maurice Prendergast: By the Sea will be on view from June 29 through October 13, 2013 and will showcase a selection of more than 90 works in a variety of media, all of which were inspired by popular summer enjoyment of the seashore. Tracing the artist's deepening interpretations of his favorite subject, the retrospective exhibition features works from more than thirty public and private collections and foregrounds Prendergast's experimental style and leading role in the development of early American modernism. The installation will span five galleries, each painted differently to support the artist's famous jewel-like colors, allowing visitors to dive into Prendergast's fantastical world.

“Lighthouse at St. Malo,” c. 1907, by Maurice Prendergast

"No artist captured the holiday atmosphere of the New England coast better than Maurice Prendergast," explains the exhibition's co-curator Nancy Mowll Mathews, co-author of the Prendergast catalogue raisonne. "Through the scope and complexity of the works that we are bringing together, Maurice Prendergast: By the Sea will illustrate how Prendergast transformed the visible reality of seaside resorts and coastal villages into an imagined, Arcadian vision all his own," adds co-curator Joachim Homann, Curator of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

“Autumn,” ca. 1917-18, by Maurice Prendergast

The focus on the theme of seaside leisure allowed Prendergast to create works of modern and experimental character shunning anecdotal subject matter in favor of formal innovation. The exhibition sheds light on the artist's creative process by including a selection of Prendergast's rarely seen sketchbooks and oil studies. The sketchbooks will provide visitors with an uncommon perspective on Prendergast's extensive preparation of his compositions, highlighting his spontaneity and playfulness. In his oil sketches Prendergast heightened the sensual experience of beaches by liberating color.

“The Promenade”

Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924) was one of the hordes of visitors who frequented New England beaches and resort towns between the 1890s and the 1920s. Prendergast was fascinated with modern life when it was most at ease, and his brilliantwatercolors, animated oil sketches, and richly colored paintings provide insight into this age of leisure travel. Through his work, Prendergast articulated the promises of a society in "pursuit of happiness," painting the public beaches of New England as the ideal venue for young and prosperous American society to celebrate its democratic values in communion with nature.

Among the highlights of the exhibition is a 1901 watercolor

The Balloon,

which is in a private collection and has not been included in earlier Prendergast retrospectives. The Balloon depicts a busy crowd watching a hot air balloon take-off and epitomizes Prendergast's fascination with the new leisure activities that dominated the nation's seashores.

Another highlight is

St. Malo,

a vibrant watercolor created by Prendergast during his 1907 trip to France. On loan from the Williams College Museum of Art, St. Malo and its companion pieces were heralded as one of the first American introductions of the bold coloristic styles of the European Post-Impressionist avant-garde. With The Promenade, ca. 1913 (above) a modernist masterpiece from the Whitney Museum of Art, Prendergast responded to the paintings by Czanne, Matisse, and others who reinterpreted the tradition of Arcadian landscapes in daring compositions. His seven contributions to the International Exhibition of Modern Art of 1913, the so-called Armory Show that brought together cutting-edge art from both sides of the Atlantic, appearedvery European and experimental in color and paint surface.

Prendergast was a cosmopolitan artist who trained in Paris and took every opportunity to travel to France, England, and Italy. Consequently, the sources of inspiration for his art were diverse and reached from the early Italian Renaissance to the French avant-garde. His ability to respond with a stream of innovations to art he revered earned Prendergast admirers among his peers. In the exhibition, a group of paintings by John Sloan (1871-1951), William Glackens (1870-1938), and Maurice Prendergast's brother Charles (1863-1948) will represent the artist's American cohort, while oils by Frenchmen Eugene Boudin (1824-1898) and Maurice Denis (1870-1943) will provide the European context for his work. The installation of works by Prendergast's American and European peers throughout the exhibition will further demonstrate Prendergast's commitment to modernism and experimentation.

Maurice Prendergast: By the Sea
features a number of works from the BCMA's own collection in addition to loans from over thirty American private and museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Phillips Collection, and the Addison Gallery, among others. The Williams College Museum of Art, home of the Prendergast Archive and Study Center, is the principal lender

From an excellent review in the Boston Globe (Images added):

“Evening on a Pleasure Boat” is an oil showing five girls and young women seated in a row on deck with the proximate harbor behind. Their faces are smudges, and the painting is dominated to an unusual degree (for Prendergast) by whites, creams, and browns.

But for all its sketchiness, the picture is full of specificity. See the way the girls’ bodies squirm as they turn for a better view of the harbor. Note the mauve dress of the middle girl, the bright blue ribbon at the back of the woman on the right, and the way that same woman holds onto her hat in the wind.

Other pictures, including Prendergast’s hauntingly atmospheric monotypes, are loaded with local observations:

“South Boston Pier,”

with its snaking rails and receding line of lamp posts is echt Boston,

as is the summery

“Float at Low Tide, Revere Beach.”

“Rocky Shore, Nantasket,”

“Handkerchief Point*,”

and “The Stony Beach, Ogunquit”

are the kinds of watercolors in which you can imagine people recognizing themselves. The rocks seem burnished by familiar hands and feet.

*Prendergast did two other watercolors with the similar names:

Handkerchief Point (Coastal Scene)

Nantasket Beach (also known as Handkerchief Point)

Another great review, also well worth reading