Charles Prendergast’s Mirror Frames, 1912 and On
Charles and Maurice drew inspiration from American and European frame designs as well as commercial pattern books and their own hand-drawn notations of observed frames. Charles typically utilized patterns for reference, while ultimately creating frames of his own design. In his frames, Charles manipulated shape and pattern in a manner that was almost painterly. His emphasis on the hand of the artist, perceptible in every facet of the frame's construction, made his frames highly prized and bolstered his reputation as an artist-frame maker. Among his patrons were prominent artists and collectors, including John Singer Sargent, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and The Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
In 1911, Charles traveled to Italy for the summer, joined later in the season by Maurice. There, he studied the frames and woodcarving found in antique shops and with local craftsman, bringing several examples home to America. Inspired by his exposure to a wealth of Italian fine and decorative art, his frames broke new ground in the incorporation of color and sculptural relief of rosettes, birds, and angel’s heads.
A year following his return from Italy, Charles began experimenting with mirror frames. While picture frames required sensitivity to the artwork enclosed, mirror frames allowed greater freedom for Charles to execute bold, creative designs. His mirror frames reflect the influence of wide-ranging sources, including frames from the Renaissance, Spanish Baroque, and Arts and Crafts movement, combined with his own highly original sensibility. Demonstrating the breadth of Charles’s historical knowledge, as well as his versatility with carving tools, these frames are evidence of the restraint that he exercised when carving a conventional picture frame. The craftsman, Charles believed, “must become an artist as well.”