• Important American Paintings,  auction at Christies

    Sale 2225

    Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture

    2 December 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 90

    Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)

    Siena

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)
    Siena
    signed 'Prendergast' (lower right)
    watercolor and pencil on paper
    12½ x 20½ in. (31.7 x 52.1 cm.)
    Executed circa 1898-99.


    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    The present work, Siena, is among the finest examples of Maurice Prendergast's watercolors of Italy demonstrating the artist's unique style. Like the Impressionists in Paris, where he studied from 1891 to 1894, Prendergast took his primary inspiration from daily life, using crowded streets and squares to create paintings both modern in style and in subject.

    In Siena, Prendergast captures the activity and movement of the town as men, women and children congregate in the park, La Lizza, overlooking the buildings of Siena including the campanile of the Palazzo Pubblico in the distance. Nancy Mowll Mathews writes, "By far the most extraordinary aspect of the Italian watercolors is Prendergast's use of detailed architectural structures as decorative backdrops for the parade of human life seen throughout the tourist's Italy at the turn of the century...he made it plain in his pictures that he had come as a tourist and aimed to capture the excitement of tourist haunts. As with his beach scenes, he presents a beautiful setting and then populates it with figures that are as lively and interesting as the sights confronting them." (Maurice Prendergast, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 17) Richard J. Wattenmaker adds, "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 Bellinis, and the eighteenth-century Venetian view painters, especially Canaletto, followed in their large scale set pieces." (Maurice Prendergast, New York, 1994, p. 52)

    In Siena, Prendergast groups the figures in the composition: the girls in the lower right, the woman and child at lower left and the groupings of figures leaning against the wall. "Prendergast's crowds have a very particular character. They are anonymous as all crowds really are, but a Prendergast crowd is not just a mass of undifferentiated humanity, as in many Impressionist paintings. No one stands out by virtue of either personality or action, yet the people in it are individuals, each doing something of his own within the context of a group." (M.W. Brown in C. Clark, N. Mathews, G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast, Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 16)

    Prendergast's early watercolors mark the beginning of his personal style. It is in these works that he develops techniques to emphasize a surface pattern of transparent brushstrokes in bold colors. In the present work, he uses blues, greens, oranges and lavender in the figures to add to the bustle of activity. Contrasting the bright colors, Prendergast has painted the facades of the buildings in muted tans and pinks and the dominating structure at left in a mossy green.

    As typical of Prendergast's style, the artist uses a method of banding and trellising whereby the artist stacks compositional elements in horizontal bands. This technique of a three band composition can be seen in Siena: the park as the lower band, the wall is the middle band, while the buildings in the distance make up the top band. He has taken these horizontal bands and weaves them with his use of trellising the vertical large trees locking the composition together.

    This important watercolor, Siena, is a wonderful example of Prendergast's mastery of color and space. His works from Italy are his most colorful of his career and this work captures his impression of color and liveliness as a tourist in Italy.

    Provenance

    The artist.
    Charles Prendergast, brother of the above, 1924.
    Mrs. Charles Prendergast, Westport, Connecticut, 1948.
    [With]Kraushaar Galleries, New York.
    Lawrence A. Fleischman, Detroit, Michigan, 1952.
    [With]Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York.
    Rita and Daniel Fraad, Scarsdale, New York, acquired from the above, 1962.
    Sotheby's, New York, 4 December 2004, lot 46.
    Acquired by the present owner from the above.


    Literature

    H.H. Rhys, Maurice Prendergast: The Sources and Development of His Style, Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1952, p. 171.
    University of Michigan Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman Collection of American Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1953, p. 11, no. 28, illustrated.
    Detroit Institute of Arts, Collection in Progress: Selections from the Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman Collection of American Art, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1955, pp. 24, 25, no. 28, illustrated.
    Milwaukee Art Center, American Painting 1760-1960: A Selection of 125 Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman, Detroit, exhibition catalogue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1958, p. 82, illustrated (as Sienna).
    The Brooklyn Museum, American Painting: Selections from the Collection of Daniel and Rita Fraad, exhibition catalogue, Brooklyn, New York, 1964, p. 42, no. 33, illustrated.
    L. Ayres and J. Myers, American Paintings, Watercolors, and Drawings from the Collection of Rita and Daniel Fraad, exhibition catalogue, Fort Worth, Texas, 1985, pp. 56-57, no. 26, illustrated.
    C. Clark, N.M. Mathews and G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast, Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 393, no. 735, illustrated.
    E. Milroy, Painters of a New Century: The Eight, exhibition catalogue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1991, pp. 124, 126, no. 6, illustrated.


    Exhibited

    (Possibly) New York, Kraushaar Galleries, Maurice Prendergast: Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings, Water Colors and Monotypes, January 3-28, 1950, no. 23.
    Ann Arbor, Michigan, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman Collection of American Paintings, November 15-December 6, 1953, no. 28.
    Washington, D.C., United States Information Service, and elsewhere, Collection in Progress: Selections from the Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman Collection of American Art, September 28-October 30, 1955, no. 28.
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Milwaukee Art Center, American Painting 1760-1960: A Selection of 125 Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman, Detroit, March 3-April 3, 1960.
    Brooklyn, New York, The Brooklyn Museum, and elsewhere, American Painting: Selections from the Collection of Daniel and Rita Fraad, June 9-September 20, 1964, no. 33.
    Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum, American Paintings, Watercolors, and Drawings from the Collection of Rita and Daniel Fraad, May 24-July 14, 1985, no. 26.
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Milwaukee Art Museum, and elsewhere, Painters of a New Century: The Eight, September 6-November 3, 1991.