Maurice Brazil Prendergast was born on October 10, 1858, along with his twin sister, Lucy, in St. John’s in the British colony of Newfoundland. His family owned a trading post there, but when it failed to support the family they moved to South End, Boston, Massachusetts. As a teen he went to work as an apprentice for an artist who specialized in commercial art, which was a big influence on his later style of painting. Commercial art was mainly a flat pattern with bright colors to aid with the advertising of products, and Prendergast did not give up the style completely, keeping it into his maturity as an artist.
Prendergast was able to attend school in Paris from 1891 until 1895, arriving there a few years after Impressionism had finally achieved respectability as movement and just when new changes in art styles were being explored. He was a student at the Colarossi and at Académie Julian, and he met and studied with artists Benjamin Constant, Walter Sickert, James Morrice and Pierre Bonnard. These and others introduced him to Post-Impressionism and the works of James McNeill Whistler, Vincent van Gogh and Georges Seurat.
Although he was never a true follower of Impressionism, Prendergast was able to understand and practice successfully some of Paul Cezanne’s color theories; he was one of the first American artists to be able to do so. It was 1895 when he moved back to Boston, and he generally used watercolors and a printing process called monotyping, which was to paint on a smooth and non-absorbent material. He’d tried using oil paints in the 1890s, but apparently didn’t like it too much; it wasn’t until after the turn of the century that he decided to turn to oil paints once more.
Prendergast was a part of “The Eight”, a group of artists that included Robert Henri, George Luks, William Glackens, John French Sloan, Ernest Lawson, Everett Shinn and Arthur B. Davies and himself. A few of them had exhibited their works together in 1904 and 1908 after a gallery showing at MacBeth Galleries they got the moniker, “The Eight”. His art pieces were enchanting and similar to mosaics in the way that he painted them, making his style stand apart from the group’s ideals, but nonetheless he remained a member.
His paintings were, more often than not, of public gatherings in parks and on the beaches. Prendergast’s style was personal in that he used jewel-like paint colors that were strongly contrasting. His scenes were developed as rhythmic patterns, a style he had seen and assumed in Venice in 1898, and still flattened, as from the days of his commercial art training. From 1900 onwards his works were popular and received excellent reviews. Even under the burden of ill-health he stayed constant to his work, exhibiting often in major events, including a 1916 show with Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Seurat and Cézanne. Some of Prendergast’s life’s works were part of an art retrospective in 1921, held at the Joseph Brummer Gallery, just three years before his passing away. His paintings are beautifully composed, some being reminiscent of tapestry work, each filling the entire canvas with life, bright colors and movement.