Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)
Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)

Park, Naples

Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)
Park, Naples
signed 'Prendergast' lower right--inscribed with title and '5' on the reverse before lining
oil on canvas
19¼ x 24¼ in. (48.9 x 61.6 cm.)
The artist.
Charles Prendergast, 1924.
Mrs. Charles Prendergast. 1948.
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York, 1967.
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1968.
C. Clark, N.M. Mathews and G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 298, no. 396, illustrated
New York, Brummer Galleries, Exhibition of Works by Maurice B. Prendergast and Charles E. Prendergast, April 1921, no. 5, as Park in Naples, (possibly)
New York, The Knoedler Galleries, Paintings and Watercolors by Maurice Prendergast: A Loan Exhibition, November 1966, no. 30, illustrated
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., American Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings, December 1968, no. 11
Southampton, New York, Parrish Art Museum, Art from Southampton Collections, August-September 1973

Lot Essay

Park, Naples belongs to a group of works dated to the last decade of Maurice Prendergast's career which are considered to be among his finest achievements in oil. Executed circa 1914-15, the present work illustrates Prendergast's predilection for capturing glimpses of picturesque crowds found in popular public spaces and his unique interpretation of color and form.

In subject, Park, Naples refers back to the artist's earlier experimentation's in watercolor in which Prendergast focused on capturing vignettes of woman and children on the beaches of Massachusetts, in the piazzas of Venice or in the parks of New York and Boston. These works illustrate Prendergast's interest in observing a crowd from a distance and portraying it with a certain sense of disengagement. As Milton Brown suggests, Prendergast "found the truth of reality in the unpremeditated and unguarded moment, the fleeting image, the common place event." (C. Clark, N. Mathews and G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 17) The interest in observing and recording picturesque moments in a brilliant palette and in a seemingly spontaneous manner preoccupied Prendergast throughout most of his career.

In the last decade of Prendergast's career, multi-figural park scenes, such as Park, Naples, became a primary interest for the artist. As Nancy Mathews observed, "Prendergast continued to produce watercolors and oils that were based on on-site sketches, but that were transformed by his investigations of abstract color and form. [Paintings] which span the period from the Armory show to his last works in 1923, show how Prendergast continued to mine his first experience of modernism in Paris in 1907." (Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast, A Catalogue Raisonné, p. 17)

Prendergast first became familiar with the works of Paul Cézanne and other Post-Impressionist artists during a pivotal trip to Paris in 1907. Prendergast returned to Europe three more times between 1909 and 1913 at which point the artist had fully developed a unique painting style that revolved around color, form and composition. Though Prendergast was largely self-taught, he was profoundly affected by the works of progressive European artists including Cézanne, Matisse and Seurat. Prendergast, however, "never borrowed mannerisms, he used only what he needed, and transformed what he borrowed into his own image." (Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast, p. 22) As a result, Prendergast developed an innovative style that made him one of the most modern artists working during this period.

Park, Naples depicts a horse and carriage alongside a stream of pedestrians promenading by an idyllic park with several large and imposing structures in the background. In its composition, color and brushwork, the present work reflects Prendergast's mature approach to painting. Park, Naples illustrates a compositional method described by Milton Brown as "trellising" whereby prominent vertical elements in the foreground extend into the middle and backgrounds which then appear to "lock the surface together." (Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast, p. 90) By using this compositional device, Prendergast emphasizes the flatness of the painting's surface which heightens its the overall decorative effect. The strong vertical elements such as the green trees, the iron fence and the crowd of pedestrians serve to closely interlock each area of the composition.

The overall decorative effect of Park, Naples is enhanced by Prendergast's bold use of color and bravura brushwork. In the present work, Prendergast manipulates lush greens, sparkling blues and soft pinks pierced with dashes of enamel white and lines of charcoal black. This color scheme is further energized by Prendergast's application of various brushstrokes that are bold and imposing. 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." (M. Brown in Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast, p. 22) Park, Naples is composed of block-like strokes which emphasize the man-made qualities of the sidewalk, buildings and iron fence while curvilinear brushwork is suggests swaying trees and flowing dresses. In Park, Naples the differing brushwork enhances the overall image creating a brilliantly unified patterned surface.

Park, Naples can be seen as a culmination of Prendergast's painting career which spanned over thirty years, exemplifying his highly innovative approach to painting both in subject and style.

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