BRUNSWICK — Seeing the exhibit, “Maurice Prendergast By the Sea” which is now showing at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art is a refreshing and uplifting experience. Eighty seven paintings from major museums across the country make up the selection of Prendergast works chosen by Joachim Homann, curator of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, and Nancy Mowll Mathews, former Curator of the Williams College Museum of Art.

Prendergast focuses on people enjoying themselves near the sea which is the theme of the show in this exhibit. The viewer can see dashes of color suggesting movement and joy in life in each work characteristic of the style of the artist.

Watercolors like: ”The Stoney Beach Ogunquit” (1896-7),”Rocky Shore Nantasket (1896), and ’”On the Beach St. Malo “ (1907) are masterpieces in light and shade and focus on people enjoying the sea at well known resort areas during the turn of the century. Prendergast’s watercolors are like visual poems which capture an unselfconscious joy in life of a time gone by, where cell phones and laptop computers did not exist, and people responded to nature and each other.

Many large oil paintings are impressive and magnificent, but heavy and dark like: ”The Promenade,” oil on canvas (1913), “Acadia,”oil on canvas (1918-23), and “Low tide” oil on canvas, (1897). It is the beautiful light watercolors that steal the show and lift the human spirit. The joy of being at the seashore is captured by the artist’s technique of the use of dashes of color, suggesting images, allowing the viewer to complete forms.

Suggested forms in Prendergast’s work enter the world of American Impressionism as seen in the watercolors: “Maine Coastal Village, (1916), “New Hampshire,”(1916 -1919),”Harbor Village” (1916-1919) and ”The Cove,”(1913-1915). They are beautiful in their simplicity and charm. “The Balloon,” (1901) and “Boston Harbor” (1903) are two more watercolors which are outstanding. Missing in the selection in this area of expertise on Prendergast is “ Rhododendrons Boston Garden,” from the Joan Whitney Payson collection at the Portland Museum of Art. While it does not focus on the sea, Boston is associated with the sea itself, and the watercolor titled “ Rhododendrons, Boston Public Gardens,” by Prendergast, could have been included in this area of the exhibit based on its outstanding quality, style, and period created.

Heavy oil paintings like: “New England Harbor” (1919-23) and “The Flying Horses (1902-6) are beautiful but do not have the special spark of life that can be found in his watercolors. A work titled “Bathers,” watercolor and pencil on paper (1912-15) depicting dancing nudes is derivative of Matisse. Never-the-less the exhibit is worth a trip to see at the Bowdoin Museum of Art in Brunswick because Prendergast is a significant and often over looked American Impressionist whose works are upbeat and cheerful. They reflect a certain innocence in our society like a Henry James novel.

Prendergast was born in 1858, in St. John’s, Newfoundland, then a colony of British North America. He painted many summers in Maine and traveled to Rome, Florence, France and Venice. In 1912 he joined the Association of American Painters and Sculptors and became president of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors in 1914.

In 1908 Prendergast exhibited at the Macbeth Galleries with a group known as “The Eight.” This group went against the conservative National Academy of Design and was independent, allowing a wider appreciation of different styles. It included such artists as Robert Henri, John Sloan, and William Glackens to name a few. In one gallery a selection of Sloan and Glackens were shown. In the center of another gallery is a very interesting and beautiful selection of Prendergast’s sketchbooks.

Prendergast died in 1924 in New York.His independent spirit makes him an artists’ artist. Although his work is nostalgic and reflects an age gone by, it captures a time in American Art History when people enjoyed gathering at the sea and relaxing with each other. In today’s age we all have a difficult time relaxing and do not seem to have time to enjoy the natural beauty around us. Prendergast has captured for us the importance of nature as seen in the sea, and crowds enjoying it .His charming style brings beauty into our lives and the theme of the sea is a timeless concept.

The museum is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays 10 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. Sunday 1  to 5  p.m. It is free of charge to the public. It is closed on Mondays.

There is an impressive catalogue at the museum gift shop with many colored plates and artistic endpapers which were taken from a watercolor in the exhibit titled “Harbor Village.”


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