From 1895 to 1897, Maurice Prendergast (1858–1924) filled the pages of a folio album with drawings in watercolor, pencil, and pen and ink, sketched on-site in the Boston Public Garden. These radiant watercolors capture incidental pastimes in one of America’s famed urban parks. Once called the poet laureate of the picnic and the celebration, Prendergast ranks among the finest watercolorists of his generation. Several of the sketches originated as ideas for advertisements, while others laid out subjects for monotype printmaking. The album, later called the Large Boston Public Garden Sketchbook, likely served as a presentation piece for publishers and other clients.
Maurice Prendergast: Boston Public Garden Watercolors, on view at the Metropolitan Museum through September 7, 2015, presents all 45 works from the sketchbook—watercolors and several drawings—a fitting tribute to an American artist whose colorful imagery chronicled charming pastimes in and around his beloved city.
Maurice Brazil Prendergast | Large Boston Public Garden Sketchbook: The Huntington Avenue Streetcar | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Maurice Brazil Prendergast | Large Boston Public Garden Sketchbook: A mother pushing her baby in a perambulator, with her daughter at her side
A woman passing a café, Folio 44 recto from Large Boston Public Garden Sketchbook, 1895-97, watercolor over pencil on paper, 14-1/16 x 11-3/16 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 1975.1.967
Born in Newfoundland, Canada, Prendergast spent much of his life in Boston, where the picturesque landscapes and seascapes in and around the vibrant city provided the perfect setting for his repertoire of leisured subjects at play. Armed with portable watercolors, Prendergast could slip in and out of a beachfront crowd or a promenading family in the park unnoticed. Few artists at the turn of the last century captured so tellingly the spirit of incidental daily pastimes. The carefree recreation of cosseted children and their adoring mothers populate almost every page of the Large Boston Public Garden Sketchbook.
The Public Garden encompasses 24 acres in south central Boston. Today bounded by Boylston and Beacon streets, the parkland was once a tidal flat at the city’s edge. Together with the Boston Common, these two parks designed by George Meacham form part of a succession of green spaces that was laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted and were known as the Emerald Necklace. As the first public botanical garden in the United States, the Boston Public Garden is a marvelous legacy of Victorian landscape design, replete with fountains, statuary, flowerbeds, and majestic trees. Its pathways provided artists like Maurice Prendergast with the perfect mise-en-scène for colorful on-site sketching.
Also on view at the Metropolitan Museum this summer is Prendergast’s oil painting Central Park (1903). It is on display in the American Wing (Gallery 772) with works by the early 20th-century urban realists known as the Ashcan group and The Eight.
Maurice Prendergast: Boston Public Garden Watercolors is organized by Dita Amory, Acting Associate Curator in Charge and Administrator of the Robert Lehman Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.