American Post-Impressionists: Maurice & Charles Prendergast

March 9, 2018–June 10, 2018

  • Maurice Prendergast, Salem, 1913–15, Oil on canvas, 14 1/2 x 18 1/4 inches, Harriet Russell Stanley Fund


This spring, the New Britain Museum of American Art will present a lively exhibition on the life and work of Maurice (1858–1924) and Charles (1863–1948) Prendergast, the first in Connecticut to be devoted to these important, early modern masters. American Post-Impressionists: Maurice and Charles Prendergast features over 100 works, including paintings, sculptures, frames, sketchbooks, photographs, letters, and tools drawn from the permanent collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art, as well as the Prendergast Archive & Study Center at Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA, which has the largest Prendergast collection in the world. 

American Post-Impressionists focuses on the unique artistic rapport shared by the brothers and traces the development of their work throughout their careers and their involvement in major movements in 20th century art, from Post-Impressionism to the Arts and Crafts movement. The exhibition originates with Maurice’s early works of the 1890s, executed during his studies in Paris, and follows his return in 1894 to the United States. Represented are paintings produced in his subsequent travels to Italy, France, Maine, Massachusetts, and beyond, that demonstrate the artist’s increasing interest in the avant-garde techniques of Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse and his evolution toward a more abstracted depiction of figures and landscape, leading to his reputation as the “First American Modernist.” Among Maurice’s works, the exhibition features both well-known scenes of leisure and the landscape as well as rare winter scenes, still lifes, and portraits. 

Charles Prendergast will be represented by his hand-carved frames and sculptures as well as his idiosyncratic paintings, which diverged from Maurice’s compositions in their simplified, folk art aesthetic. Steeped in the Arts and Crafts culture of Boston as a young man, Charles produced highly prized, hand-carved frames for the greatest artists of his day, including John Singer Sargent. Additionally, he devised a method of painting on carved and incised panels that was influential in American primitive art in the early 20th century. The exhibition will showcase vibrant folk art compositions that Charles produced while living in Westport, Connecticut. His search for innocence—the aesthetics of pure forms and child-like vision—was the product of his time and his unique personality.

Finally, a number of sketchbooks, photographs, letters, and tools will accompany the works on view, further bringing the art of the Prendergasts to life.