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Vibrant Scenes of Italy by Maurice Prendergast on View at Houston's MFA
Maurice Prendergast, (American, 1858-1924), "Rialto, Venice", c. 1911-12. Watercolor and pencil on paper. Williams College Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Charles Prendergast, 86.18.79.
HOUSTON, TX.- Prendergast in Italy, the first exhibition devoted entirely to the Italian watercolors, monotypes, and oil paintings by the American modern artist Maurice Prendergast, will open at the MFAH on February 14, 2010. Featuring more than 60 views of Venice, Rome, Siena, and Capri, Prendergast in Italy also includes the artistīs personal sketchbooks, letters, photographs, and guidebooks from his two trips to Italy, in 1898 and 1911. Prendergast was born in St. Johnīs Newfoundland (Canada) and moved to Boston at age ten, where he was working as a commercial artist by 1886. He developed his mature style, however, during early trips abroad to France (1891-1895) and Italy (1898-99). Renowned for his paintings full of joie de vivre, the view of Italy that Prendergast presents was informed by European trends filtered through the eyes of an American artist and tourist encountering Venice for the first time. This exhibition demonstrates the advances of abstract color and form that put Prendergast on the cutting edge of American modernism.

"The Williams College Museum of Art has the largest collection of Prendergast works in the world, and coupled with loans from 50 other institutions, this is an unparalleled opportunity to see such a complete collection of the artistīs output from his trips to Italy on view here in Houston," stated Peter C. Marzio, MFAH director. "Museum guests can traverse the colorful canals of Prendergastīs Venice, complimented by views of the sea presented by John Singer Sargent in Sargent and the Sea."

"Venice provided a spectacle of color and pattern that Prendergast transformed into stunning and bold works, all of which catapulted him into the front ranks of American artists," added Emily Ballew Neff, MFAH curator of American Painting and Sculpture. "Prendergast in Italy will show the enduring place Prendergast holds in American art as a technically superb watercolorist, and one whose buoyant surfaces and rhythmic patterns are are simply a joy to behold."

Since the majority of the works in Prendergast in Italy are of Venice, the armchair traveler will come away from this exhibition with a vivid sense of that unique city, its canals, and famous monuments as seen through the eyes of an American on the forefront of 20th-century modernism. Five paintings are displayed so that both sides of the works are visible. These double-sided watercolors, in addition to many sketches, unfinished works, and archival materials, provide a special glimpse into the artistīs creative process. A large group of color monotypes showcases Prendergastīs daring approach and experimentation with the medium.

Prendergast in Italy highlights a selection of the collection of over 400 works by artist-brothers Maurice and Charles Prendergast in the Williams College Museum of Art, the largest collection in the world. In addition to artworks from WCMA and the Terra Foundation for American Art, the exhibition features loans from over 50 institutions and private collections in the United States, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Maurice Prendergast (American, 1858—1924) made a name for himself in Boston and New York as a cutting-edgewatercolorist who experimented with color monotypes. In his day, he was lauded by the more progressive art critics and attracted the support of modern art collectors. When he first departed for Italy (1898), he was an up-and-coming avant-garde artist who had recently returned to Boston from four years in Paris.

The body of work that Prendergast produced shows his struggle to pay homage to the great art he encountered in Assisi, Siena, Rome, and Venice while he grappled with the new realities of modern, unified Italy and the progressive art of his time. Prendergastīs interpretation of Venice captures a unique blend of old and new. Watercolors from his first trip to Italy are characterized by Prendergastīs interest in the Italian flag and how it symbolized a "new" Italy; he depicted it many times during this first trip. These works were sent home and exhibited in Boston even while he was still abroad. In 1900, shortly after his return to America, they were showcased in his first one-person show. It was the Italian watercolors that catapulted Prendergast to a national reputation and a place among the most advanced artists in New York.

Ten years later, after assimilating the new expressionistic and abstract art theories unveiled in Paris by Matisse, Picasso, and their circle, Prendergast again departed for Italy (1911). On his second trip, Prendergast focused on the bridges of Venice, applying his new style to the emblematic architecture of the canal city. This body of work shows the advances of abstract color and form that put Prendergast at the forefront of American modernism.

MFAH | Peter C. Marzio | Maurice Prendergast |

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