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Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)
Property of a New York Collector
Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)

The Flying Horses

Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)
The Flying Horses
signed 'Prendergast' (lower right)--signed again and inscribed with title (on the reverse)
watercolor and pencil on paper
13 ¼ x 20 7/8 in. (33 x 53 cm.)
Executed circa 1900-01.
Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Sutro, San Francisco, California.
Sotheby's, New York, 29 May 1981, lot 59, sold by the above.
John Parkerson, Houston, Texas, acquired from the above.
Prentice Tomlinson, acquired from the above, by 1982.
Joan Michelman Ltd., New York.
Private collection, acquired from the above.
Joan Michelman Ltd., New York.
Murjani Collection, acquired from the above.
Joan Michelman Ltd., New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1985.
E. Green, Maurice Prendergast: Art of Impulse and Color, College Park, Maryland, 1976, p. 42.
R. Reif, "Record Set for U.S. Impressionist," New York Times, May 30, 1981, p. 14.
R. Reif, "Auctions: Art Records Set in May," New York Times, June 7, 1981, p. 51.
C. Clark, N.M. Mathews, G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast, Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 405, no. 771, illustrated.
(Possibly) Boston, Massachusetts, Boston Water Color Club, Water Color Club: Fourteenth Annual Exhibition, March 10-16, 1901, no. 70.
(Possibly) Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Museum of Art, Special Exhibition of Water Colors and Monotypes by Mr. Maurice B. Prendergast, November 1901, no. 11.
San Francisco, California, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Maurice Prendergast: 1859-1924, April 22-June 3, 1961.
Santa Barbara, California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Painted Papers: Watercolors from Durer to the Present, March 15-April 15, 1962, no. 158.

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Annie Rosen
Annie Rosen

Lot Essay

After a year and a half sojourn in Italy, where the artist produced many of his most celebrated compositions in watercolor, Maurice Prendergast returned to America in 1900. Having mastered his technique, Prendergast developed a painting style uniquely his own, characterized by vivid color, complex compositions and a richness of detail. The artist also began to focus chiefly on themes of leisure, predominantly in city parks and courtyards.

In Prendergast's earlier watercolors, he took his primary inspiration from "the grand theme of modern art, leisure." According to the artist's biographer Nancy Mowll Mathews, "Leisure was promoted as the hallmark of a progressive society. Social reformers and the labor movement fought for the universal acceptance of the eight-hour workday and guaranteed paid holidays. They argued that increased leisure time for the individual would bring improvements in health, education, and productivity, which, in turn, would fuel the growth of an enlightened, modern society...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. Like a movie producer or an amusement park carney, he was a showman in the best sense of the word. He produced art to seduce and charm his audience--all the while asking them to sharpen their senses and broaden their horizons." (The Art of Leisure: Maurice Prendergast in the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1999, pp.15-16) These leisure themes manifested themselves in Prendergast's scenes of daily life, crowded beaches and parks, and busy sidewalks and squares, creating paintings modern in both style and in subject.

At the time the present work was painted, Prendergast resided in Winchester, Massachusetts, near Boston. The Flying Horses was executed in the small coastal town of Nahant, Massachusetts. Along with other works painted there, including a less ambitious watercolor (Merry-Go-Round, Nahant, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts) and a related, albeit later, oil sharing the same title (The Flying Horses, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio), the work captures a scene along Nahant’s coastline. The Flying Horses is densely composed and includes many of Prendergast's familiar motifs in his highly refined, mature style. Leafy trees are compositionally intertwined with the playing children accompanied by fashionably adorned ladies. Meanwhile, at the left side of the scene, a dock juts into the serene sea as sailboats gently bob in the water. Additionally, the artist uses strong compositional elements derived from the benches, merry-go-round, trees and structures to create a watercolor at once complex and harmonious.

At the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Prendergast exhibited regularly in Boston and was beginning to establish his reputation as one of the city's most highly acclaimed artists. His watercolors charmed the public and the critics alike, inspiring general praise. After one such exhibition, a critic from the Sunday Journal exclaimed, "The works by Maurice B. Prendergast, both at the Art Club and Jordan Gallery are 'the rage of the town,' and well they may be reckoned." (as quoted in Maurice Brazil Prendergast, Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 60) Prendergast's The Flying Horses stands as one of the artist's most charming, complex and successful works of the period, depicting a fleeting Gilded Age life of leisure and joy in a small American town.

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