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Property from the Collection of Morton and Norma Lee Funger MAURICE BRAZIL PRENDERGAST (1859-1924)

The Canal, Venice

The Canal, Venice
signed and inscribed 'Prendergast/Venice' (lower left)—inscribed and signed again 'Riv di San Severo/Venice./Maurice B Prendergast.' (on the reverse)
watercolor and pencil on paper
17 x 11 in. (43.2 x 27.9 cm.)
Executed circa 1898-99.
Kraushaar Galleries, New York.
Lewis B. Williams, acquired from the above, 1926.
Private collection, by descent.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, 1982.
Acquired by the late owners from the above, 1985.
W.M. Milliken, "Maurice Prendergast: American Artist," The Arts, vol. 9, April 1926, pp. 180, 182, 184, illustrated.
L. Eglington, "Prendergast Art in Fine Memorial," Art News, vol. 32, March 3, 1934, p. 4.
H.H. Rhys, "Maurice Prendergast: The Sources and Development of His Style," Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1952, p. 172.
C. Clark, N.M. Matthews, G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 388, no. 718, illustrated.
M.A. Erhardt, E. Broun, The Norma Lee and Martin Funger Art Collection, Lunenberg, Vermont, 1999, pp. 30-31, illustrated.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Maurice Prendergast Memorial Exhibition, February 21-March 22, 1934, no. 21.

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Lot Essay

The Canal, Venice is among the finest examples of Maurice Brazil Prendergast's watercolors, celebrating the pageantry and modernity of public life at the turn of the century. Like the Impressionists in Paris, where he studied from 1891 to 1894, Prendergast took his primary inspiration from daily life, using leisure activities of the general public, such as at beaches and parks, to create paintings modern both in subject and style. Exhibiting these elements at their finest, The Canal, Venice is a quintessential example by the artist.

Following his successful stay in France, Prendergast traveled abroad once again in 1898, this time spending the majority of his time in Italy, primarily in Venice. As it is today, the city was an exceedingly popular tourist destination at the time, providing a ceaseless supply of material for the young artist. The present work features classic Venetian scene, along the city's famed canals, as gondeliers ply their trade for eager tourists. Noted art historian Nancy Mowll Mathews writes, "By far the most extraordinary aspect of the Italian watercolors is Prendergast's use of detailed architectural structures as decorative backdrops for the parade of human life seen throughout the tourist's Italy at the turn of the century…he made it plain in his pictures that he has come as a tourist and aimed to capture the excitement of tourist haunts." (Maurice Prendergast, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 17) Here, the architecture is layered upon itself to create a dynamic pattern of form and color.

Although he relied on architecture in establishing his arrangements, Prendergast was eager to document the spectacle of the country and the myriad of busy visitors who attended each site. "He visited only the most popular destinations in Italy, gravitating toward the sites that drew the biggest crowds." (N.M. Mathews, The Art of Leisure: Maurice Prendergast in the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1999, p. 25) In The Canal, Venice, Prendergast captures the activity of the day with an evident fascination for the vibrant city and its inhabitants, characteristically grouping his figures, as they recede back in to space and disappear in the magical composition.

With their beautiful use of color and attention to cultural detail, Prendergast's Italian watercolors, including the present work, immediately gained critical and popular praise upon their exhibition back in New York. The success of such works led to Prendergast's association with the leaders of the Boston area Impressionists, later known as The Eight, and helped established Prendergast as one of America's greatest painters.
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