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Maurice Prendergast Photo

Maurice Prendergast

American Painter

Born: October 10, 1858 - St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada
Died: February 1, 1924 - New York City, New York
"The best painting isn't done by boys. It's the work of mature men."
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Maurice Prendergast Signature
"I was much influenced by Pissarro but with the watercolors it was nature pure and simple. Some effects I would see would really drive me frantic."
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Maurice Prendergast Signature
"I am working. My mind is virtually set to compose, to which everything else is secondary, that is, which interferes with my work."
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Maurice Prendergast Signature
"Italy is the place for ideas to dance a high step on the paint box."
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Maurice Prendergast Signature
"If the circumstances of a man's life admitted the acquisitions of only one set of ideas his works would be thin...."
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Maurice Prendergast Signature
"The Signs of Genius is the power of recognizing and assimilating that which is necessary to the development of oneself.... We come into the world with nothing in our own right except the capacity for the acquisition of ideas. We cannot invent ideas, we can only gather some of those in circulation since the beginning of the world. We endow them with the color and form of our own time and if that color and form be of a supreme quality the work is preserved as a representation of a period in the history of civilization.... Genius is the power of assimilation. Only fools think the[y] invent."
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Maurice Prendergast Signature

Summary of Maurice Prendergast

Through his trips to Europe, Prendergast encountered and absorbed many new ideas relating to the practices and production of art. He took these with him back to the USA where he incorporated them into his own work to create a unique and personal style which helped to introduce and popularize Modernism in America. Prendergast continued to develop his art throughout his life, trialing new mediums and experimenting widely with notions of color and form. Fascinated by people and busy scenes, his work is reflective of contemporary ideas pertaining to health, leisure, and the benefits of the outdoors and he often presented a utopian take on the sights he painted.

All of his work contained a sense of energy and motion. In addition, his paintings became increasingly abstract as his career progressed.


  • Prendergast drew inspiration from the work of European Post Impressionists and he was a leading figure in introducing these new concepts and styles to American audiences. He was particularly interested in color and his use of bold pigments make a vibrant statement throughout his work, highlighting emotional and pictorial elements.
  • Although working in a range of mediums including oils and monotypes (a print taken from a design created in oil paint or printing ink on glass or metal), he often painted with watercolors and is known for his expertise with these, particularly his flowing technique and unusual use of strong colors.
  • The majority of Prendergast's work depicts scenes of contemporary life, focusing on groups of people in outdoor locations - the street, beach and park. He was particularly interested in painting women and captured fashionable clothing and accessories with a keen eye for detail. The themes of his work inspired later generations of artists to record leisure activities in a similar manner.
  • Prendergast created a large number of monotypes and the dissemination of these helped to promote the idea of fine art color prints to the wider public.

Biography of Maurice Prendergast

Maurice Prendergast Photo

Maurice Prendergast was born to an American mother and Canadian father at the family's sub-Arctic trading post in St John's, Newfoundland.

Important Art by Maurice Prendergast

Progression of Art
Along the Seine (1892-94)

Along the Seine

Along the Seine was created during Prendergast's first trip to Paris where he was exposed to a wide range of new artistic styles. The majority of his work at this period was painted in watercolors and this image is an important early example of his use of oils.

When not attending art classes he spent a great deal of his time absorbing scenes of Parisian life which he turned into subjects for his paintings, setting a precedent for his later work. The fashionably dressed woman strolling along the river provides an early example of Prendergast's focus on leisure activities and portrayals of clothing. The colors are muted apart from the yellow leaves on the tree and ground and this hints at an early exploration of the impact of color within a composition.

The impact of French Impressionism is present in the image in terms of both style and subject matter and this can be attributed to the influence of painters such as Édouard Manet and the American, James McNeill Whistler.

Oil on canvas - Collection of Whitney Museum of America Art, New York, New York

The Stony Beach, Ogunquit (1896-97)

The Stony Beach, Ogunquit

This work provides a fine example of the crowd scenes that Prendergast often painted, in this instance a sunny afternoon on a Massachusetts beach. Prendergast painted extensively in New England depicting the social spaces of beaches and parks. Working in watercolor, he demonstrates his mastery over the medium, combining detail with a freedom of brushwork. More experimental in style than some of his earlier work, this image is a sensitive response to Post Impressionism.

The complex arrangement exhibits a charming sense of innocence combined with a formal sophistication. The figures are arranged in a flowing line throughout the picture and this rhythm is emphasized by the distribution of vibrant blocks of color - parasols and bright dresses stand out against the other white figures and the rocky shoreline. The red elements of the image draw the eye upwards to the top left of the painting and the flowing lines of the white dresses are reflected in the sails of the yachts. The jewel colors, flattened perspective and decorative style suggests comparisons with tapestry work or mosaics.

Watercolor and pencil on paper - Private Collection

Lighthouse at St. Malo (1907)

Lighthouse at St. Malo

This is one of a number of works Prendergast created based on sights he saw during a trip to St Malo, France in 1907. The same sinuous shapes seen in earlier works continue to be visible but the influence of Pointillism and Fauvism can be noted in the vibrant blues and greens and loose brushstrokes. The group of figures in the foreground and the rocky headland in the background form a static framework to the curving quay which carries the observer's eye across the painting from left to right.

Prendergast selected paintings from the St Malo series to display in 'The Eight' exhibition of 1908.

Oil on canvas - Collection of The William Benton, Museum of Art, The University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut

Canal (1911-12)


Prendergast toured Italy during the period 1911-12 and this resulted in a burst of activity. He produced many watercolors including more than twenty depictions of the canal bridges in Venice. Fascinated by the colors and sights of the country, he described their effect on his creativity, "Italy is the place for ideas to dance a high step on the paint box."

The Canal is an important example of how his Italian works focused heavily on the architecture of the cities he visited. Here the muted colors of the Venetian buildings form a dominant and geometric framework for the livelier movement of the gondolas and boatmen in the foreground. The curve of the bridge, with its static crowd, forms a barrier between the two elements. The harshness of this delineation is alleviated by the repetition of the splashes of ochre which carry the eye between the two areas. The color occurs in the gondolier's blouse in the foreground and is then repeated on various facets of the buildings.

Watercolor and pencil on paper - Collection of Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art, Utica, New York

Central Park (1914-15)

Central Park

This work was finished shortly after Prendergast's move to New York in 1914, although it may have been started some years earlier and reworked. The three horizontal bands running across the painting represent the division of routes in the park between carriages, riders and pedestrians with the vertical elements of the trees linking the bands. There is a strong sense of movement from left to right and right to left across the painting with points of stasis halting the movement at the end of each band so that the eye is not drawn off the edge of the canvas. Despite the muted palette employed there is a pleasing sense of festivity attached to the image.

The figures are presented in a less realistic manner than in earlier works and the objects, while still distinguishable, give way to larger, more abstract forms of densely-packed color. This image demonstrates Prendergast's continued development and experimentation even later in his career as an artist.

Oil on canvas - Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

Idyll (1912-14)


The loosely rendered figures in this work are characteristic of Prendergast's later style in which color and form became more important than realism.

Rich in symbolism, as well as references to classical imagery, this painting highlights Prendergast's command of art history and his deep understanding of European artists and works.

According to Richard Wattenmaker, in this one work alone "[...]Prendergast translated his understanding of Florentine frescoes, Giorgione, Gauguin's elegant Tahitian versions of the Greeks, Renoir's nudes and nude groups, and Puvis de Chavannes into a graceful frieze, combining clothed, semiclothed, and nude figures in a rhythmic sequence recalling but not resembling Gauguin's Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? of 1897. The dry, fresco-like sparkle of color, the emphasis on rich, granular built-up pigment, such as that found in Cézanne's bathers and landscapes that Maurice had scrutinized, merged its rugged texture with an appealing, almost anticlassical "awkwardness" of drawing, with its compact, unconventional placement of three-dimensional figures against a screenlike background."

Oil on canvas - Collection of The Barnes Foundation, Merion Station, Pennsylvania

Similar Art

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Maurice Prendergast
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
  • Charles Daniel
    Charles Daniel
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    Albert Barnes
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    Duncan Phillips
  • No image available
    Charles Prendergast
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    John Quinn
Movements & Ideas
Friends & Personal Connections
  • Charles Daniel
    Charles Daniel
  • No image available
    Albert Barnes
  • No image available
    Duncan Phillips
  • No image available
    John Quinn
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kate Stephenson

"Maurice Prendergast Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kate Stephenson
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First published on 22 Feb 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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