In partnership with the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) presents Prendergast in Italy, the first exhibition devoted entirely to the watercolors, monotypes, and oil paintings by American artist Maurice Prendergast. Featuring over sixty 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. Prendergast presented a view of Italy that was informed by European trends but did not disguise his strong American accent—an accent that would come to dominate international discourse in the twentieth century. This interdisciplinary exhibition demonstrates the advances of abstract color and form that put Prendergast on the cutting edge of American modernism.

Five different works, including Rialto, Venice from WCMA’s collection, are displayed so that both sides are visible. These double-sided watercolors, in addition to many sketches and unfinished works, provide a special glimpse into the artist’s creative process. A large group of color monotypes showcase Prendergast’s daring approach and experimentation with the medium. Archival materials, such as photographs, letters, guidebooks, and Japanese prints belonging to the Prendergasts (now in WCMA’s collection), give context to the period and Prendergast’s unique, modern style.

Prendergast in Italy highlights a selection of the collection of over four hundred 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 fifty 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.

Prendergast in Italy  opens at the Williams College Museum of Art on Saturday, July 18 and will be on view through September 20, 2009; the exhibition then travels to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy (October 9, 2009–January 10, 2010), and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas (February 14–May 9, 2010).

Prendergast in Italy was conceived and organized by Nancy Mowll Mathews, Eugénie Prendergast Senior Curator of 19th and 20th Century Art at the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Mass., with Elizabeth Kennedy, Curator of Collection at the Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, IL.

Maurice Prendergast (American, 1858–1924) made a name for himself in Boston and New York as a cutting edge Impressionist watercolorist 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.


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