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Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller
Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)

Grande Marina, Capri

Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)
Grande Marina, Capri
signed and dated '--1899--Prendergast--Capri--' (lower right)
watercolor and pencil on paper
11 x 15 3/8 in. (27.9 x 39.1 cm.)
Executed in 1899.
[With]Childs Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts.
[With]M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York, 1953.
Mr. and Mrs. Lansing W. Thoms, St. Louis, Missouri, 1955.
[With]Washburn Gallery, New York.
Acquired by the late owners from the above, 1976.
J. Barnitz, et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Art of the Western Hemisphere, vol. II, New York, 1988, pp. 54-55, no. 19, illustrated.
C. Clark, N.M. Mathews, G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 402, no. 758, illustrated.
N.M. Mathews, E. Kennedy, Prendergast in Italy, London, 2009, pp. 69, 178, nos. 80, 758, illustrated.
Boston, Massachusetts, Boston Chase Gallery, April-May 1899.
Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago, An Exhibition of the Works of Hermann Dudley Murphy and the Works of Maurice B. Prendergast, January 3-28, 1900, no. 77.
New York, Macbeth Gallery, Exhibition of Water Colors and Monotypes in Color by Maurice B. Prendergast, March 9-24, 1900, no. 17.
Boston, Massachusetts, Boston Art Club, 64th Exhibition: Watercolors, etc., April 6-27, 1901, no. 90.
Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Museum of Art, Special Exhibition of Watercolors and Monotypes by Mr. Maurice Prendergast, November 1901, no. 22.
Cincinnati, Ohio, Cincinnati Museum Association, Mr. Maurice B. Prendergast: Exhibition of Watercolors and Monotypes. December 7, 1901-January 2, 1902, no. 22.
New York, Kraushaar Art Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings and Watercolors by Maurice Prendergast, October 30-November 17, 1930, no. 1.
Toronto, Canada, Toronto Art Gallery, Catalogue of an Exhibition of Paintings by Maurice Prendergast, October 1931, no. 35.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Americans Abroad, March 22-April 22, 1954, no. 31 (as On the Beach, Capri).
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Paintings and Watercolors by Maurice Prendergast: A Loan Exhibition, November 1-26, 1966, no. 15, illustrated.
St. Louis, Missouri, City Art Museum, American Art in St. Louis, October 22-November 30, 1969.
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Lot Essay

Having previously found great advantage in foreign study on a three-year sojourn in Paris, Maurice Prendergast traveled abroad once again in 1898, this time spending the majority of his time in Italy. During his year-long trip, the artist primarily stayed in Venice with side trips to Padua, Florence and Orvieto. In the winter, he painted in Rome, stopping briefly in Naples and Capri. On this short visit to the Mediterranean island, Prendergast executed Grande Marina, Capri, a colorful impression of his travels to the crowded plazas and impressive panoramas of Italy.

During his Italian vacation, Prendergast was eager to document all of the important sites and spectacles of the country. “He visited only the most popular destinations in Italy, gravitating toward the sites that drew the biggest crowds. Not only did he include tourists in his views of famous monuments, but he also created a series that captured unerringly the American tourist experience.” (N.M. Mathews, The Art of Leisure: Maurice Prendergast in the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1999, p. 25) As it remains to this day, Capri was one of the popular tourist destinations at the turn of the century.

In the present work, Prendergast portrays the busy docking area on the north shore of the island, where passengers from Naples and Sorrento disembarked from their boats and entered horse-drawn carriages to travel up the rocky cliffs to the town of Capri. With an incoming ship visible on the horizon, the work focuses on the unique characters and vehicles that greet visitors to the island. A pencil sketch on the reverse, most likely drawn around the same time, faces in the opposite direction away from the sea and shows the steps leading up the hill from the Grande Marina.

In his Italian watercolors, Prendergast was anxious to show the unique character of the country and all of its individual regions. In Grande Marina, Capri, Prendergast's attention to the local cultural flavor is immediately evident. Nancy Mowll Mathews explains, “He paints not only the distinctive architecture and landscape of Siena or Capri but also the local costume, physical type, and tools, such as baskets. In the several watercolors Prendergast completed while ‘on vacation’ on the island of Capri, the most striking example of his choice of regional subject matter is his attention to the special shape and bright colors of the fishing boats. The difference between these boats and those found around Venice, where the vessels themselves are drab but the sails are beautifully colored, could not be greater.” (Prendergast in Italy, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2009, pp. 66, 70)

Prendergast made a concerted effort to record not only the individual culture of Capri but also the idiosyncrasies of individual characters at the Grande Marina. Although their faces are left unrealized, the people populating the docks patently range in age, size, wealth and attitude. From the man in the lower left casually leaning against a boat with one bent knee to the woman with blue polka dots on her head scarf, the figures are distinct characters in the pictorial story, as opposed to just place fillers. Even the horses are of different colors and stances, some with eye patches, one toward the back leaning down.

Central to his expression of the local atmosphere and population of Italy is Prendergast’s strong use of color in Grande Marina, Capri. In his early watercolors completed on this trip abroad, the artist fully developed his personal style of transparent, differentiated brushstrokes in bold colors. In the present work, the riot of reds, blues, yellows and purples certainly adds to the visual impact of the bustling marina scene. The vibrant navy sea flooding the background with color provides stability to the chaotic crowd.

With their beautiful use of color and attention to cultural detail, Prendergast’s Italian watercolors, including Grande Marina, Capri, immediately gained critical and popular praise upon their exhibition back in New York. Their success led to his association with the leaders of the Boston art scene later known as The Eight and helped establish Prendergast as one of America’s greatest painters.

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