Charles Prendergast Frames
In 1891, Charles accompanied Maurice to France where the two brothers enrolled in art classes together. Unlike Maurice, who desired to become a fine artist, Charles was determined to pursue other creative directions and returned to Boston after less than a year abroad. There, he joined the Lars F. Peterson & Co. firm, which produced decorative wooden moldings. By the time Maurice had returned from Paris in 1894, Charles had gained expertise in all aspects of carved decorative wooden objects. With Maurice’s encouragement, Charles founded a frame-making business that by 1897 proved successful enough to provide continuing support for both brothers. Charles was awarded a number of commissions in the early 1900s that established him as the most accomplished frame-maker in Boston.
Charles’s guiding principle as a frame-maker, in his own words, was to “bring out all the fine points of a good picture.” Unlike the elaborate and deeply carved styles that were widely popular from the 1600s onward, Charles’s frames are modest in scope: the carving is usually simplified and self-consciously rustic. Decorated motifs are limited to basic scrolls and flower patterns as well as asymmetrical beading, and the gilding is often dull and unevenly applied, giving the frames an antique appearance. Generally, Charles’s frames adhere to the aesthetic precepts of the then-popular Arts and Crafts movement, which found virtue in humble, handmade objects that highlighted the natural beauty of the material from which they were created.
The complementary nature of the brothers’ skills allowed them to collaborate extensively on the design and execution of frames. Maurice took great interest in frames, as evidenced by over 200 pages of frame studies that he made in his sketchbooks. The 350 known Prendergast frames reveal Charles’s ability to innovate, adapt, and assimilate different styles from the Renaissance to the Arts and Crafts movement in frames that expressed his singular vision. Charles made frames for many of Maurice’s works as well as for other artists and collectors in their circle. They were so well received that, at busy times, Maurice had to put his own work aside to help fill his brother’s orders.