Promenade belongs to an important body of work executed after Maurice Prendergast's pivotal trip to Paris in 1907. Painted circa 1914-15, the present work exhibits Prendergast's predilection for capturing glimpses of picturesque crowds leisurely strolling along the tranquil New England shoreline expressed in a modern style uniquely his own.
Promenade illustrates Prendergast's fascination with crowds found in popular public places of the new middle class. Milton Brown notes, "These urban genre subjects are a reflection of the new cultural developments in Europe and America which followed the Industrial Revolution. An emerging middle class, with new leisure and the money to enjoy it, encouraged and supported new forms of public entertainment and evolved a new week-end and vacation culture...Parks, playgrounds and amusement areas became integral parts of city life...Prendergast, perhaps more than any other artist of his time, mirrored the great variety of this new public activity. Throughout his life he was attracted to such public spaces: The parks of Boston- Boston Common, Franklin Park; its seacoast beaches-Revere, Marblehead, Nahant, and many others." As Milton Brown suggests, Prendergast "found truth of reality in the unpremeditated and unguarded moment, the fleeting image, the common place event." (Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast, pp. 16-17) Promenade demonstrates the artist's fascination with everyday activities of New England's leisure class while simultaneously exhibiting a modernist approach to painting.
Considered the first American to champion the art of Cezanne in America, Prendergast found profound inspiration in the work of the Post-Impressionist masters which, despite his self-taught background, played a significant role in his painting career from 1907 onward. Prendergast's works suggest an adaptation of several stylistic innovations of the progressive European artists, particularly Cezanne, Matisse and Seurat. Prendergast, however, "never borrowed mannerism, he used only what he needed, and transformed what he borrowed into his own image." (C. Clark, et al., Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 22) As a result, Prendergast developed an innovative style that made him one of most modern artists working during this period.
Depicting a stream of mid-day strollers along a New England shoreline, Promenade 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. In the present work, Prendergast uses a method of banding and trellising whereby the artist's stacks compositional elements in horizontal bands, which are interlocked by strong vertical forms. In Promenade, the strolling crowd along the verdant shore line comprise the lower band of the painting, while the blue water peppered with sailing vessels and rock suggests the middle band, and the light filled sky remains the upper band. The three-band horizontality of the composition is broken up by the verticality of such prominent motfis such as the fruit laden tree, the open parasol and strolling figures of various sizes that are placed in a frieze like manner across the work. The tree form and figures span all three bands and serve to interlock the composition.
In addition to the purposeful arrangement of composition, Promenade 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 saturated green of the trees and landscape along with the crystalline blue of the sea and soft white of the sky creates a backdrop from which emerges a resplendent display of contrasting, yet harmonizing color. Set against the landscape, sea and sky are patches, areas and lines of bold black, deep greens, enamel-like reds and saturated pinks used to animate the strolling figures. This brilliant color scheme is applied in a variety of overlapping brushstrokes that are fluid, but tactile. In Promenade, these variations in brush work and color are freely expressed and enhance the textural quality and jewel-like pattern of the work.
Promenade 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 oil reveals the artist's highly personalized approach to subject and style.