One of America's early modernists, Prendergast painted some fifteen innovative fruit still lifes, probably between 1910 and 1913. Prendergast rarely exhibited or sold his still lifes, and they are difficult to date. The only one of his fruit pieces which can be securely dated is "Apples and a...
One of America's early modernists, Prendergast painted some fifteen innovative fruit still lifes, probably between 1910 and 1913. Prendergast rarely exhibited or sold his still lifes, and they are difficult to date. The only one of his fruit pieces which can be securely dated is "Apples and a Pear on the Grass" (1912, Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art), which Prendergast painted on a visit with the American artist William Glackens [59.658] and his wife. He also completed about fifteen flower pieces during this period [see "Flowers in a Blue Vase," 48.589]. Prendergast seems to have painted these still lifes as a way to come to terms with the work of Paul Cézanne, whose pictures he had studied on a trip to Paris in 1907. At the time, Paris was full of avant-garde artists, but Prendergast wrote, "I think Cézanne will influence me more than the others... He left everything to the imagination. [His paintings] are great for their symplicity [sic] and suggestive qualities," (quoted in Nancy Mowll Mathews, "Maurice Prendergast," Williamstown, Mass. and Munich: Williams College and Prestel-Verlag, 1990, p. 25). All of Prendergast's fruit pieces include apples, which were also prominently featured by Cézanne. Like the French artist, Prendergast modeled these round forms by using patches of color rather than shaded tones, and he outlined the objects in dark pigment to differentiate them from the background. The slight tilt of the tabletop and the white napkin under the fruit in "Still Life" also recall Cézanne's work. Yet Prendergast did not slavishly copy the older artist. He incorporated Cézanne's ideas into his own mature style, which because of its decorative qualities, has variously been described as comparable to mosaics, tapestries, or brocades. Prendergast's brush strokes, evenly distributed and each equally vigorous, create an overall pattern in his paintings. The MFA's canvas differs from Prendergast's other still lifes; here he included more high-style objects, like the silver urn, the porcelain tea pot, cup, and saucer. While Prendergast dispensed with traditional illusionistic devices such as shadows and shading, he did include reflections on the silver urn, simplifying them into patches of color that correspond to nearby objects. Another unusual feature is the compote, which is repeated in the background as if it stood before a mirror, but the reflection does not replicate exactly what appears on the table. Such a ghost image also appears in Prendergast's "Cinerarias and Fruit" (about 1910-1913, Whitney Museum of American Art). Prendergast's "Still Life," with its rich surface texture, dynamic composition, and dazzling colors, communicates a vital energy rare in this genre of painting. When Prendergast died in 1924, he left "Still Life" (along with the rest of his estate) to his brother Charles, also an artist [see "Flowers," 48.840]. Charles's widow, Eugénie Prendergast, gave "Still Life," as well as "Portrait of Maurice Prendergast's Father" [69.1262], and "Woman in Brown Coat" [68.585] to the MFA, thereby ensuring that the Museum's collection would include the full range of the painter's work. Janet Comey
Upper left: Prendergast
The artist; to Charles Prendergast, his brother, 1924; to Mrs. Charles Prendergast, 1948; to MFA, 1970, gift of Mrs. Charles Prendergast.
Gift of Mrs. Charles Prendergast in honor of Perry T. Rathbone