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Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)
Property from the Collection of Charlotte and R. Philip Hanes, Jr.
Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)

Fountain, Central Park

Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)
Fountain, Central Park
signed 'Prendergast.' (lower left)
watercolor and pencil on paper
12½ x 19 in. (31.8 x 48.3 cm.)
The artist.
Charles Prendergast, 1924.
Mrs. Charles Prendergast, 1948.
[With]Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1968.
Harry W. Anderson, 1969.
[With]Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1973.
[With]Frank E. Fowler, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, 1974.
Robert H. Caldwell, Jr., Tennessee, 1974.
Auslew Gallery, Norfolk, Virginia, 1978.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Meredith Long & Company, Americans at Home and Abroad 1870-1920, exhibition catalogue, Houston, Texas, 1971, n.p., no. 26, illustrated.
Andrew Crispo Gallery, Ten Americans: Avery, Burchfield, Demuth, Dove, Homer, Hopper, Marin, Prendergast, Sargent, Wyeth, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1974, n.p., no. 124a, illustrated.
C. Clark, N.M. Mathews and G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast, Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 409, no. 785, illustrated.
C.L. Mo, North Carolina Collects: Traditional Fine Arts and Decorative Arts, exhibition catalogue, Charlotte, North Carolina, 1994, p. 87, no. 76.
Houston, Texas, Meredith Long & Company, Americans at Home and Abroad 1870-1920, March 26-April 9, 1971, no. 26.
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, Ten Americans: Avery, Burchfield, Demuth, Dove, Homer, Hopper, Marin, Prendergast, Sargent, Wyeth, May 16-June 30, 1974, no. 124a.
Charlotte, North Carolina, Mint Museum of Art, North Carolina Collects, July 9-September 18, 1994, no. 76.

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Lot Essay

Refreshed from his travels in Italy, Maurice Prendergast returned to the United States in 1899 and continued to explore the medium in which he had achieved such extraordinary success. Describing Prendergast's watercolors executed soon after his return from Italy, Richard J. Wattenmaker writes, "Inspired rather than intimidated, immediately after his return Maurice brought to bear on his work the capacity for clear organization that he had demonstrated in the practical sphere and turned what Barbara Novak has called his 'formidable intelligence' to painting. The critical success he enjoyed did not turn his head or seduce him to coast through a career of satisfying the cautious public by giving it what it had been led to expect...He had learned in Italy what the Post-Impressionists had learned in the Louvre--that Impressionism, in all its gloriously colorful aspects, was an insufficiently broad foundation for an artist. He knew, as he studied the achievements of the Italian masters, that the ease and control over the medium of watercolor that he had so mastered was merely a point of departure for the new and more difficult tasks that he would set for himself. With the determination that was integral to his personality, he began to approach painting in the same spirit." (Maurice Prendergast, New York, 1994, p. 59)

Fountain, Central Park exhibits characteristics that link the work with Prendergast's Italian efforts, but at the same time it reveals how the artist was consciously refashioning his art and taking it in new directions. Similar to many of his Venetian paintings,
Fountain, Central Park illustrates Prendergast's fascination with crowds found in popular public places of the new middle class. Nancy Mathews writes, "His 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) Fountain, Central Park demonstrates the artist's fascination with everyday activities of the leisure class while simultaneously exhibiting his Modernist approach to painting.

In Fountain, Central Park Prendergast captures a sun-filled day with men, women and children enjoying a leisurely afternoon in the park. "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." (M.W. Brown, "Maurice B. Prendergast" in Maurice Brazil Prendergast, Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 16)

Fountain, Central Park poignantly illustrates Prendergast's particular approach to composition, color and brushwork. Keenly aware of the Post-Impressionist's aesthetic attitudes of composition and space, Prendergast used an array of devices to emphasize the flatness of the surface, which in turn heightened the overall decorative effect. For the majority of Prendergast's New York watercolors, the artist used Central Park as his subject matter, although other sites such as Madison Square also attracted him. Prendergast concentrated on the area of the park near the Mall, whose formal design provided brilliant counterpoint to the artist's dynamic compositions. In Fountain, Central Park, Prendergast uses a method of banding and trellising whereby the artist stacks compositional elements in horizontal bands, which are interlocked by strong vertical forms: the fountain suggests the lower band of the work, the hill and steps comprise the middle band, while the tree tops remain the upper band. The three-band horizontality of the composition is broken up by the verticality of such prominent motifs as the trunks of the trees and spouting water which are placed in a frieze like manner across the work, spanning all three bands and interlocking the composition.

In addition to the purposeful arrangement of composition, Fountain, Central Park is enhanced by the powerful use of color and a bold display of brushwork. The artist elects to use a more arbitrary choice of color and defines his palette locally. The varied neutral washes of the steps and ground creates a backdrop from which emerges a resplendent display of contrasting, yet harmonizing color using his typical color scheme of reds, blues, greens and yellows to add to the bustle of activity. This brilliant color scheme is applied in thin, fluid brushstrokes. Prendergast's brushwork "takes on an abstract quality apart from the underlying forms they are suppose to define, moving in independent directions, and varying in size and shape. But, while obscuring and overriding those forms, they succeed in unifying the pictorial surface." ("Maurice B. Prendergast" in Maurice Brazil Prendergast, Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, p. 22) In Fountain, Central Park, these variations in brushwork and color are freely expressed and enhance the textural quality and pattern of the work.

Fountain, Central Park illustrates the artist's lifelong interest in observing urbanity at rest as well as his passion for color and composition. Bringing together several of Prendergast's favored devices and tools, this extraordinary watercolor reveals the artist's highly personalized approach to subject and style. Painted just after his pivotal trip to Italy, the present work exhibits Prendergast's predilection for capturing glimpses of picturesque crowds relishing a leisurely day in the park expressed in a modern style uniquely his own.

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