The Late Works of Charles Prendergast, 1930s-40s
In 1914, Maurice and Charles were encouraged to move to New York City, where Modern art flourished. According to Charles: “Boston’s all right as a place to live, I suppose, but it’s no place for an artist.” On November 1st, the brothers moved to 50 Washington Square. Respected by their peers and selling well, they embraced a life of artistic stimulation and productivity.
After 1914, Maurice no longer traveled abroad given his failing health, most likely due to prostate cancer, which ultimately claimed his life in 1924. Maurice’s passing left an enormous void in Charles’s personal and professional life. In 1925, however, Charles traveled to France, where he met Eugénie Van Kemmel, whom he married that same year. The couple settled in Westport, Connecticut in 1929, and Charles resumed his creative life, maintaining a prolific artistic output and exhibiting regularly in the 1930s and 40s.
In contrast to his heavily gilded “celestial” works of the 1910s and 20s, which drew from art historical sources in their evocation of idyllic lands, Charles’s art of the late 1930s and 40s shifted to scenes of everyday life and experience, rendered in his signature folk art aesthetic. Charles dated his “modern” period to 1932 and after, following a visit to the Danbury Fair in Connecticut. From this time forward, he concentrated on the American scene, depicting parks, country fairs, and pleasure-seekers—subjects that had enchanted his brother, as well as Urban Realists William Glackens, John Sloan, Everett Shinn, and others, two and three decades earlier. When depicting animals—a recurring motif throughout his career—Charles now placed them in familiar contexts such as circuses, zoos, or carriage paths, rather than fantasy worlds. He continued to receive success exhibiting and selling work until, and well beyond, his death in 1948.