Private Collection (her cousin), 1913
Davis & Langdale, New York
Acquired by the present owners from the above, circa 1990s
Ellen S. Glavin and Eleanor Green, "Chronology," Maurice Prendergast: Art of Impulse and Color, College Park, Maryland,1976, p. 40
Richard York, An American Gallery, 1987, no. 12, illustrated
Carol Clark, Nancy Mowll Mathews and Gwendolyn Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast, Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, no. 709, p. 385, illustrated
The spectacular light and picturesque architecture of Italy captivated Maurice Prendergast during a pivotal sojourn in 1898-1899, and resulted in a series of dazzling and highly developed watercolors. Over an eighteen-month period, Prendergast traveled to Venice, Padua, Florence, Siena, Orvieto, Rome, Naples and Capri, and found his subject matter in the religious processions, secular parades, and gathering crowds of locals and tourists which he painted against the backdrop of scenic architecture. Prior to leaving for Italy, Prendergast had already achieved some critical success in the 1890s with the watercolors he painted along the New England coast, colorfully portraying the leisurely activities at seaside resorts like Revere Beach, Nahant and Marblehead. In comparing these consecutive periods of the artist's career, Richard Wattenmaker writes: "Building on the subtle color adjustments of the New England coast series, the Italian watercolors maintain their level of richness and complexity, assuming a luminosity and transparency that in sheet after sheet simply dazzle in their vibrant, airy, shimmering sweep" (Maurice Prendergast, New York, 1994, p. 43).
Prendergast developed his watercolor technique while studying at the Atelier Colarossi and Académie Julien in Paris from 1891-94. While there, he saw the work of the Neo-Impressionists, contemporary revolutionary French artists who favored orderly arrangements of pattern, color and texture in contrast to the spontaneity of Impressionism. Upon his arrival in Venice, Prendergast also became familiar with the Renaissance masterpieces of Vittore Carpaccio. His biographer Van Wyck Brooks noted that the artist "was always talking about Carpaccio...his figures on the steps of canals and his spots of color" (The Lure of Italy, Boston, Massachusetts, 1992, p. 428). Richard Wattenmaker writes: "In his Italian watercolors, Maurice used walls as natural grids; among their intervals he packed the spaces full of picturesque activity, a tradition that Carpaccio, the Bellini's, and the eighteenth-century Venetian view paintings, especially Canaletto, followed in their large-scale set pieces, choreographing the activity with a precision and elegant calligraphic notation that Maurice doubtlessly scrutinized at every opportunity in the Galleria dell'Academia" (Maurice Prendergast, p. 52).
In the present work, a fleet of traghetti battelli, or gondolas, form a delightful pattern as they gather at the edge of the shoreline, their crescent shapes vividly reflecting off the canal's waters. Prendergast's elegant sense of geometric structure balances space and form with a lightness of touch that is one of the hallmarks of Prendergast's watercolor technique. The elongated forms of the dark vessels are framed by a frieze of buildings above and dancing ripples of water below, while Prendergast's fluid transparent strokes of color animate the composition and infuse it with an atmosphere of light and air. Disappearing pencil under-drawings testify to the highly calculated organization that belies the feeling of immediacy and spontaneity of the finished work.
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