Prendergast in Italy

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Maurice Prendergast , Festa del Redentore, ca. 1899

Maurice Prendergast, Festa del Redentore, ca. 1899. Watercolor and pencil on paper, (11 x 17 in.; 27.9 x 43.2 cm). Williams College Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Charles Prendergast (91.18.5)

October 10, 2009–January 10, 2010

Maurice Prendergast spent his youth in Boston, where, like his contemporary the Impressionist Childe Hassam, he began his career in graphic design before turning exclusively to painting upon arriving in Paris in 1891. There be became acquainted with the Nabis, James McNeill Whistler, and Japanese prints. In 1914 he relocated to New York where he had his first successes as an artist. By the time of his death in 1924, Prendergast was celebrated as one of the most important American modernists of the early 20th century, and, in particular, as the first to respond to the French Post-Impressionist art of Cezanne.

This is the first exhibition of Prendergast’s art to be presented in Italy as well as the first assembling of the paintings he made during his two trips to Italy. In June 1898 he travelled to Venice (the main focus of his trip), Padua, Florence, Siena, Assisi, Orvieto, Rome, Naples, and Capri, returning late in 1899. When in Italy Prendergast painted prolifically, exploring and heightening the avant-garde ideas he had been exposed to in Paris. His experience on his second trip to Venice, from August 1911 to January 1912, shifted his work toward a more formalist style, with Symbolist content.

The corpus of Prendergast’s Italian work is one of the most attractive and revealing in the story of American art, and is presented here with more than sixty of his watercolors, oils, and monotypes. In addition, photographs, films, guidebooks, and travel advertisements create a strong impression of the Italian topography, manners, and society of 1900. The presentation of Prendergast’s works in Italy, where they were created, offers a new point of interest and contributes to the comprehension of what characterized modernism in the early 20th century and of the role Prendergast played in the development of modern art in America.

The curators are Nancy Mowll Mathews, Eugenie Prendergast Senior Curator of 19th- and 20th-Century Art, and Elizabeth Kennedy, Curator of Collection, Terra Foundation for American Art. The catalogue (Merrell Publishers, London) will be an enduring contribution to the scholarship of modern American art, with essays by scholars and an updated checklist of all Prendergast’s Italian works. The exhibition is organized by the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, in partnership with The Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois—both of which have lent major works from their own collections.

Prendergast in Italy first opened at the William College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, July 18–September 20, 2009, and travels after Venice to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, February 14–May 9, 2010.

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