In watercolors, oil paintings, and monotypes, Maurice Prendergast depicted genre scenes of cities in which he lived, including Boston, Venice, and New York. Trained in Paris in the 1890s, he was one of the first American painters to assimilate contemporary trends in modern European painting. His use of flat, abstract fields of pure color, decorative patterning, boldly contoured forms, and unusual angles and framing devices is associated with Post-Impressionism. His influences include James McNeill Whistler, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and the Nabi artists, as well as Japanese prints and French posters.
Prendergast confined his interest in printmaking to the monotype technique and, through his consistent use of multiple colors, promoted the idea of the fine-art color print to the general public. He described his process in 1905: “Paint on copper in oils, wiping parts to be white. When picture suits you, place on it Japanese paper and either press in a press or rub with a spoon till it pleases you.” Prendergast is thought to have created approximately two hundred monotypes between 1891 and 1902, although somewhat fewer are known today. In his overall oeuvre, they stand between his delicate, early watercolors and his rough, late, impasto oils.
Requiring rapid execution, the monotype process lends itself to loose, gestural brushwork, as in the two prints shown here. In Orange Market, thought to be based on fruitstands in Venice, light infuses the composition wherever the paper shows through the paint, creating distinct highlights. The umbrella motif, the central horizon line, and the border recall elements in Japanese prints. Comparable effects are visible in The Rehearsal, which demonstrates Prendergast’s interest in motifs related to entertainment, including the ballet and the circus.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Jennifer Roberts, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 121.