In Country Lane Rockport, Maurice Prendergast paints a New England landscape which characteristically captures a scene from daily life, rendered as a bright, painterly image of summer. Adults and children promenading near the town's harbor is the central subject (a small sailboat is visible to the right). It is the sort of subject the artist often found appealing, for he most commonly found inspiration in parks, beaches, village streets, and public squares--devoting much of his ouevre to the depiction of people at leisure out of doors.
Each summer, Prendergast set aside time for "extended holidays, during which (he) painted along the beaches and parks of New England." Among his many favorite locales in the immediate vicinity of Boston were Revere Beach, Marblehead, Gloucester, and Rockport. (R.J. Wattenmaker, Maurice Prendergasti New York, 1994, p.71). By 1920, the approximate date of Country Lane Rockport, Prendergast had begun to experiment much more boldly with broader brushwork and patterns of color, which he handled with a new sense of assurance. Here, as in other works, the artist places his figures parallel to the picture plane in a frieze-like arrangement rendered in vivid colors of blues, pinks, whites and greens. Patterns are repeated and emphasized among the fences, the rooftops, and the women wearing long dresses. Evidence of his working progress is quite apparent, with pencil lines and over-lapping daubs of color visible throughout. He also includes touches of pastel, providing a subtle addition of gray line to the tree and rooftop at upper left. To enhance the work's spontaneous effect, Prendergast leaves a few areas of white paper bare, an approach he frequently employed. With the freeness of this technique, Prendergast creates a modern imagery uniquely his own, and yet employs a style which draws directly from his study of developments in Europe.
The transformation of Predergast's earlier and tighter style of watercolor technique to a much more fluid and modernist style is generally credited to his fourth trip to Europe in 1907, and his visit to Paris that year. While there, he studied the works of Signac, Czanne, and others, including the controversial works of Matisse shown at the 1907 Salon d'Automne. In a letter to his brother, Charles, he writes that "the exhibitions are the great things here. . . I learn more from them than from anything else. " (E. Green, Maurice Prendergast, College Park, Maryland, 1976, p. 54). "He saw so much, in fact," notes the art historian Franklin Kelly, "that he was uncertain what the result would be: 'All those exhibitions worked me up so much that I had to run up and down the boulevards to work off steam. ... I don't know what influence it will have after I am once more home.' His response was hardly surprising. In Paris, Prendergast witnessed the extraordinary aesthetic fermentation that would...lead to a wholesale revision of the very nature of painting. As Prendergast sensed, he would need to take stock of all this after he had returned home." (F. Kelly, American Impressionism and Realism, The Margaret and Raymond Horowitz Collection, Washington, DC, 1998, p. 115)
In 1907, the artist wrote to a friend about the artistic ferment he found in Paris, singling out the work of Czanne, whose watercolors he saw at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune: "Czanne gets the most wonderful color," Prendergast wrote, "a dusky kind of grey. He had a watercolor exhibition late in the spring which was to me perfectly marvelous. He left everything to the imagination: they were great for their simplicity and suggestive qualities." Describing the Nabis, the Fauves, and others that at first bewildered him (as they bewildered many artists), Prendergast concludes enthusiastically: I got what I came over for - a new impulse." (Maurice Prendergast, p. 58).
While in Paris in 1907 Prendergast was invited to join a group exhibition to be mounted the following year at the William Macbeth Gallery in New York. Also invited to what would become a landmark show were Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, and Everett Shinn. Stylistically, Prendergast's work was far more advanced than these other artists, but he agreed to contribute seventeen paintings to the exhibition, which would become famously known as the exhibition of The Eight.
Of Prendergast's more modern style, Critics noticed the difference immediately, some negatively, others at least moderately positively. One critic provided a back-handed compliment to Prendergast's modernity by using the kind of language that was fast becoming the sine qua non of aesthetic conservation. These canvases of Maurice Prendergast look for all the world like an explosion in a color factory." Undetermined Prendergast continued his formal experiments and was, in fact, one of the most radical painters working in America at this time. He was an enthusiastic contributor and visitor to the Armory Show of 1913 and his own works began to be acquired by the leading avant-garde collectors Albert C. Barnes and John Quinn." (American Impressionism and Realism, The Margaret and Raymond Horowitz Collection, p. 115) This success continued in the coming years, establishing Prendergast at the front rank of the development of the modern aesthetic in American art.