Maurice Prendergast Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Prendergast in Italy, the first exhibition devoted entirely to the 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 artist´s personal sketchbooks, letters, photographs, and guidebooks from his two trips to Italy, in 1898 and 1911.

Maurice Prendergast, (American, 1858-1924), “The Lagoon, Venice”, 1898. Watercolor and pencil on paper. Fayez Sarofim Collection

Prendergast was born and raised in Boston but developed his mature style during early trips abroad to France (1891-1895) and Italy (1989-1989). 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 artist´s 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 Prendergast´s 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 artist´s creative process. A large group of color monotypes showcases Prendergast´s 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.

About the Artist
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. Prendergast´s interpretation of Venice captures a unique blend of old and new. Watercolors from his first trip to Italy are characterized by Prendergast´s 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.

International Tour
Williams College Museum of Art (Williamstown, MA): July 18—September 20, 2009
Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice, Italy): October 9, 2009—January 3, 2010
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Houston, TX): February 14—May 9, 2010

Prendergast in Italy, published by Merrell Publishers, London, is a catalogue focusing on Prendergast´s major Italian works. The main essay of the book is written by Nancy Mowll Mathews, with an additional essay by Elizabeth Kennedy. These essays accompany 250 illustrations of art, photography, maps, and documents that give the complete context of Prendergast´s Italy.

Other contributors include: Carol Clark, William McCall Vickery 1957 Professor of the History of Art and American Studies, Amherst College (Amherst, Massachusetts); Alessandro Del Puppo, Universita degli Studi di Udine (Udine, Italy); Olga P³aszczewska, Chair of Comparative Literature, Faculty of Polish Studies, Jagiellonian University (Kraków, Poland); and Jan Andreas May, Assistant Curator, Neue Nationalgalerie (Berlin, Germany).

The exhibition is organized by the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, in partnership with The Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois. Terra Foundation for American Art is the lead sponsor with additional funding from the Eugenie Prendergast Endowment.

This exhibition receives generous funding from: Isabel B. and Wallace S. Wilson; Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. Hevrdejs; Mr. and Mrs. Michael C. Linn. Additional funding is provided by the MFAH Benefactors of American Art: Cornelia and Meredith Long; Bobbie and John Nau; Fayez Sarofim; and Ann Gordon Trammell.

General Information:
For information, the public may call 713-639-7300, or visit

For information in Spanish, call 713-639-7379. TDD/TYY for the hearing impaired, call 713-639-7390. For membership information, call 713-639-7550 or email [email protected]

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