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

Road to the Shore

Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)
Road to the Shore
signed 'Prendergast' (lower right)
watercolor and pencil on paper
11 x 14½ in. (27.9 x 36.8 cm.)
The artist.
Charles Prendergast, 1924.
Mrs. Charles Prendergast, 1948.
Adelson Galleries, New York.
Meredith Long & Co., Houston, Texas.
C. Clark, N.M. Matthews and G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, no. 1229, p. 510, illustrated

Lot Essay

Executed circa 1915 to 1916.

One of the most aggressively modern painters belonging to the group of artists known collectively as The Eight, Maurice Brazil Prendergast was as influential as any American around the turn of the twentieth century in ushering upon us a new vocabulary for American Art. His boldly executed watercolors and canvases resonate with creativity and innovative spirit.

Prendergast's works have a compositional clarity, despite their somewhat abstracted forms. Road to the Shore exhibits Prendergast's frequently-employed system of layering horizontal swaths of pigment and linking them with vertical forms. The promenade, along which these ladies in the foreground walk, is the triangular lower register, the sweeping middle register is filled with gray-blue figures and the road's curvature, and the sky is the third, upper register. The vertical forms of the two trees and two central women intersect all three of these essentially horizontal fields. The effect of this compositional tactic is one of a flattened picture: Prendergast has called our attention to the two-dimensionality of the paper, heightening the work's decorative effect.

His quick, large brushstrokes at once allude to and describe his forms. Milton Brown observes about this technique: "The brushstrokes become larger and bolder and take on an abstract quality apart from the underlying forms they are supposed to define, moving in independent directions, and varying in size and shape. But while obscuring these forms, they succeed in unifying the pictorial surface." (in C. Clark, N.M. Matthews, and G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 22)

Road to the Shore demonstrates Prendergast's lifelong interest in observing and recording picturesque moments of life outdoors, in the brilliant palette and seemingly spontaneous manner that characterize his finest works. The women, dressed in stylish gowns and large hats are in the manner of the mid-1910s, casually stroll along the road on their way to the waterfront. The waterfront was the primary recurring theme in Prendergast's work, mostly due to his desire to show the everyday activities of New England's coastal leisure class, one tied to bathing, promenading and in general congregating at the water's edge.

Prendergast stands as an important transitional artist in the course of American painting. "As a whole, the body of his work remains a paradigm of the transformation of American art from late nineteenth-century Impressionism and realism to early twentieth-century modernism." (M. Brown in Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, p. 22)

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