Thursday, May 25, 2017

Highlights from the Permanent Collection: “White House — Summer” by Maurice Prendergast

As summer comes upon us, we highlight “White House  — Summer” by Maurice Brazil Prendergast. Born in Canada and raised in Boston, Prendergast was greatly influenced as an artist by French Impressionism, Paul Cézanne, the decorative patterns of the French post-Impressionist Nabis and Fauvism. Prendergast studied at the Académie Julian and at the Académie Colarossi in Paris during the early 1890s. In 1898, he traveled to Italy, visiting Siena, Florence, Rome, Capri, and Venice. In 1908, he participated in the exhibition of the Eight at Macbeth Gallery in New York — a display of eight “independent” artists organized by Robert Henri following his dismissal from the National Academy of Design. Prendergast served on the organizing committee of the Armory Show of 1913, and seven of his paintings appeared in the exhibition, which introduced Futurism, Fauvism, and Cubism to a mass U.S. audience. Prendergast’s works are in the collections of many major institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Maurice Prendergast, White House – Summer, ca. 1910–13
Like many of Prendergast’s large oil paintings and watercolors dating after 1910, “White House — Summer” depicts leisure in a modern and idyllic New England landscape populated by young women. In the immediate foreground, two females adorned in green and yellow converse with each other while a third woman, in pink, reads while strolling. Prendergast communicates the vibrancy of the day and the lush vegetation of midsummer through rich, broad brushstrokes in various shades of green. Billowy pink and white clouds fill the azure sky. In “White House — Summer,” Prendergast juxtaposes “old” New England with the industrialization of the region by visually linking a vertical cypress with a factory smokestack in the distance.

Artist and critic Walter Pach, Prendergast’s friend and a supporter of American modernism, published a tribute to the artist in 1922: “When he comes nearest to creating a new world in his joyous fancy of a summer all of light — clear and radiant. His picture is real for us and consonant with our experience: a thing in harmony with the law that we are conscious of in all art, even though we are never able to formulate it.”

Adapted from “One Hundred American Paintings” by Paul Manoguerra

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