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Landscape with Figures

On view

Landscape with Figures

Artist: Maurice B. Prendergast (American, 1858 - 1924)

Date: 1910-1912
Medium: Oil on canvas, original frame
Dimensions:
Framed: 38 1/2 x 53 x 3in. (97.8 x 134.6 x 7.6cm)
Overall: 28 1/2 x 42 3/8in. (72.4 x 107.6cm)
Signed: l.r.:'Prendergast'
Credit Line: Edward W. Root Bequest
Object number: 57.212
Text Entries

The seven works Maurice Prendergast entered in the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, known as the Armory Show, was a large, impressive painting called Landscape with Figures, (1) which found an immediate buyer, Edward Wales Root.(2) Root‘s choice of a Prendergast for his major purchase from the Armory Show is not surprising, for we believe he met the artist and others of his group through editorial work on the New York Evening Sun. Through these associations, and partly to help support artists in need, Root came to a commitment to collect the work of his contemporaries, and he had already acquired a Venetian watercolor by Prendergast the year before the Armory Show.(3)

Prendergast lived in Boston when his work first attracted Root’s attention and did not move to New York until 1914, but he was a frequent visitor to Manhattan and a noted exhibitor in the local galleries. He drew the attention of the New York critics because of his earlier appearance in exhibitions there; by 1908, when he showed at Macbeth Galleries with The Eight, Prendergast’s work was judged the most radical of a group dominated by urban realists and was recognized by some critics as being closest to European modernism, especially to Matisse.(4) Prendergast’s color and facture, singled out in 1908 for both praise and condemnation, again drew critical attention in 1913 when he appeared to be in step with European artists and one of the most avant-garde Americans in the Armory Show.

As one of a number of oils thought to represent Salem Willows, on the Massachusetts coast,(5) Landscape with Figures is distinguished by its predominantly yellow, high-keyed color and loose brushwork; paint drips from the trees are freely dabbed all over the canvas and dragged and smeared from one figure to another. The joy of applying paint and the holiday atmosphere of the promenading figures were not overlooked by contemporary critics, among them Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., who also noticed the strengths of Prendergast’s naiveté: “Prendergast has had the odd fate to be a Neo-Impressionist and a Post-Impressionist without knowing it. He splits the world up into a coarse mosaic of the primaries and recombines it in brusque and animated suggestions. It is not an art for slow eyes. There is plenty of sunlight and joy of life in it, and enough keen observation of men and women in any one of his three big pictures to fit out an Academy show and leave a surplus.”(6)

When Edward Root acquired Landscape with Figures for eight hundred dollars he paid an additional one hundred twenty-five dollars for an elaborately carved frame, one of the few with the maker’s name burned and incised on the back of its upper member. The frame, by the artist’s brother, Charles Prendergast,(7) is the only one known to have been made as two separate wooden moldings, one elevated on dowels about an inch above the surface of its support with robust carving and undulating forms, which must have appealed to Root.

A silent world of expressive gestures and movements, as silent perhaps as both the artist’s and the patron’s in their deafness, Landscape with Figures unifies Prendergast’s observation of social life on the Massachusetts coast with his own intellectual and artistic experiments, and his devotion to modernism. It was a fitting contribution to the exhibition, which publicized the affinities between European modernism and American artists.

 

Notes

1. I am indebted to Charles Parkhurst, Milton W. Brown, Nancy M. Mathews, Gwendolyn Owens, and Carol Derby, my colleagues on the Prendergast project, Williams College Museum of Art, for their contribution to our continuing study of Maurice and Charles Prendergast.

2. Root withdrew the picture from the traveling show and consequently it was not seen in either Chicago or Boston.

3. This Work is Canal and is now in the collection of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art.

4. “Exhibitions Now On,“ American Art News, vol. 6 (April 11, 1908), p. 6.

5. It is most closely related to The Holiday (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), On the Beach No. 3 (Cleveland Museum of Art), and The Promenade (Columbus Museum of Fine Arts).

6. F.J.M. [Frank Jewett Mather, Jr.], “The Armory Exhibition—II," The Nation, vol. 93 (March 13, 1913), p. 267.

7. The use of only their last name suggests the possible collaboration of the brothers in the conception and execution of the frame.

 

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