• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2058

    Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture

    4 December 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 38

    Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924)

    Study of Malo: The Border of the Sea

    Price Realised  

    Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924)
    Study of Malo: The Border of the Sea
    signed 'Prendergast' (lower left)
    oil on board
    10½ x 13¾ in. (26.7 x 35 cm.)
    Painted circa 1907.


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    Study of Malo: The Border of the Sea is a superb example from Maurice Prendergast's paintings depicting the revelry of the leisured middle class and the natural splendor of St. Malo on the northwest coast of France. The present work is a celebration of modernity, both in its avant-garde formal style and its focus on the newfound leisure of the urban, middle class. As Nancy Mowll Mathews explains, "His [Prendergast's] talent and personality drew him to the kind of experiences turn-of-the-century leisure offered: the colorful jostling of holiday crowds, the experience of nature mediated by parasol and windswept banner, and the lowering of class and gender barriers to foster a sense of inclusiveness--however fleeting...True to his age, leisure became the great theme of Prendergast's art. Over time, attitudes and values changed, but he never lost his reverence for a subject that he felt made people more civilized and more human. Nor did he forget that art itself was a leisure-time spectacle." (The Art of Leisure: Maurice Prendergast in the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1999, pp. 15-16) Prendergast's vision of St. Malo captures the natural beauty of its rock strewn shores and the delight of its inhabitants, who stroll and climb among the rocks with a sense of joie de vivre as they search for a respite from the modern city, finding solace in the natural beauty offered by seaside resort towns.

    Prendergast was born in Newfoundland in 1859, and spent his childhood and young adulthood in Boston, where he became captivated with the natural beauty of the New England shoreline. After receiving formal instruction at the Atelier Colarossi and the Académie Julian in Paris from 1891 to 1894, Prendergast returned to his native New England, settling in Winchester, Massachusetts. This location was pivotal to his artistic development, enabling him to readily explore the coastline where he developed a fascination with the lively beaches there. In May 1907, Prendergast boarded a transatlantic ship to France, spending several weeks in Paris and Versailles before traveling to St. Malo a month later. While there, Prendergast continued his recurrent theme of the pursuit of leisure, and the two months he spent in St. Malo provided a bounty of subjects. Prendergast's vision was most often revealed in the bustling, energetic crowds of the middle class. "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. Within this urban throng there are some indications of class distinction in dress, activity, and means of locomotion, but it is exactly the democratization of people in a Prendergast crowd that gives it its character." (C. Clark, N.M. Mathews and G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast, Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 16) Prendergast was fascinated with capturing spontaneous moments in nature and the specific moments in time that produce a visual experience for the viewer.

    Study of Malo: The Border of the Sea is characterized by a multitude of brilliant colors--reds, blues, greens, and oranges--rendered in broad brushstrokes. The strong inspiration of Paul Cézanne and the Fauves is evident in these brightly colored dabs of paint that simultaneously blend into one another while remaining subtlety distinct. The exquisite paint surface is also exemplary of Prendergast's pointillist inspired formal technique, displaying an affinity with the French Post-Impressionist painter Georges-Pierre Seurat in the style of paint application. Dashes of un-modulated color and the flattening of perspective in the present work exemplify the impact of Japanese art and ukiyo-e woodblock prints. The decorative effect in the present work is heightened by Prendergast's method of banding and trellising, wherein the compositional elements in the painting are assembled into horizontal bands, which are then interlocked with strong vertical forms. The lower band of the work is comprised of the crowd of beach goers traversing the rocky shore, followed by a brilliant blue expanse of ocean in the middle band, and finally the sun drenched sky completes the uppermost band. The horizontally oriented bands are both broken up and brought together by strong vertical motifs--including billowing sails and strolling figures--which are placed in a frieze-like manner across the work. Study of Malo: The Border of the Sea is a striking mosaic of bold color and uninhibited brushwork, signaling the influence of European Modernism and the avant-garde move toward abstraction in Prendergast's work. Composition, color and brushwork in the present work are emblematic of Prendergast's unique formal style, making it a particularly stunning and beautiful example from his time on the French coast.

    The present work retains its original Charles Prendergast frame.

    Provenance

    The artist.
    Private collection, South Carolina, acquired from the above, 1908.
    By descent to the present owner.


    Literature

    Macbeth Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings by Arthur B. Davies, William J. Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice B. Prendergast, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1908, n.p., no. 31 (as Study, St. Malo).
    "Widely Shown Exhibition of 'The Eight' American Artists at the Public Library," Newark Evening News, May 1, 1909, Newark, New Jersey, p. 3 (as Studies, St. Malo).
    H.H. Rhys, Maurice Prendergast: The Sources and Development of his Style, Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1952, pp. 34-35 (as Studies, St. Malo).
    R.J. Wattenmaker, "Maurice Prendergast," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin, vol. 40, Oberlin, Ohio, 1982, p. 36 (as Study, St. Malo).
    C. Clark, N.M. Mathews and G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast, Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 233, no. 96, illustrated.


    Exhibited

    New York, Macbeth Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings by Arthur B. Davies, William J. Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice B. Prendergast, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, February 3-15, 1908, no. 31 (as Study, St. Malo).