William Benton Museum of Art

University of Connecticut

Storrs, CT




People & Places: Childe Hassam and Maurice Prendergast, 1887-1923


People & Places brings together from the collections of the Benton Museum and the New Britain Museum of American Art thirty-three of the artists' paintings, drawings and prints of modern life from the 1880s to the 1920s. The exhibition runs from January 23 - March 16, 2001, with a reception open to the public on Friday, February 2, from 6-8 p.m. (left: Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924), New England Shore, c. 1910-11, watercolor and pencil, 9 x 12 inches, Gift of the Eugénie Prendergast Foundation, WBMA, 75.10 [CMO 1006]; right: Childe Hassam (1859-1935), Old Mumford House, Easthampton, 1919, oil on canvas, 21 3/8 x 30 inches, Charles and Elizabeth Buchanan Collection, NBMAA, 1989.25)

Childe Hassam (1859-1935) and Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924) lived lives that were parallel in many ways yet dramatically different in others. They were contemporaries who grew up and studied art in Boston. As exhibiting artists, they likely would have crossed paths. Both were profoundly influenced by French art but at different times and with strikingly different results. Hassam's art would become institutionalized as American impressionism while Prendergast's found few adherents.

The focal points of the exhibition are Hassam's Le Jour de Grande Prix (1887) and Prendergast's Lighthouse at St. Malo (c.1907), paintings that were central to their careers and representative of how American art was evolving between 1887-1923 and how American artists viewed European, especially French, modernism. (left: Childe Hassam (1859-1935), Le Jour de Grande Prix, 1887, oil on canvas, 37 x 49 1/4 inches, Grace Judd Landers Fund, NBMAA, 1943.14; right: Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924), Lighthouse at St. Malo, c.1907, oil on canvas, 20 1/8 x 24 5/8 inches, Gift of the Eugénie Prendergast Foundation, WBMA, 72.31 [CMO 99])

A separate selection of paintings from the Benton collection by contemporaries of Hassam and Prendergast will also be exhibited in the main gallery.

On Wednesday, February 7, at 4 p.m., Dr. Douglas Hyland, Director, New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT will lecture on "Beyond Childe Hassam: Impressionism in Connecticut." February 21, at 4 p.m., Professor Emeritus Harold Spencer, University of Connecticut, Storrs, will lecture on "Childe Hassam and Maurice Prendergast: Some Thoughts on Form and Content." (left: Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924), Sunday Afternoon , c. 1910-13, oil on panel, 10 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches, Gift Mrs. Eugénie Prendergast, WBMA, 84.21 [CMO 255]; right: Childe Hassam (1859-1935), Rigger's Shop, Provincetown, Mass., 1900, oil on canvas, 22 x 19 inches, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Lawrence Pond, NBMAA, 1976.98)

A catalogue essay authored by Thomas P. Bruhn, Curator at the William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, accompanies People & Places: Childe Hassam and Maurice Prendergast, 1887-1923. Following are two paragraphs excerpted from the essay and the related endnotes.

In 1887 Childe Hassam (1859-1935) painted the Parisian Le Jour du Grand Prix..., a brilliant conflation of impressionist style, realist subject, and contemporary urban setting. Although Hassam had briefly visited Paris in 1883, he returned with his wife Maude in the autumn of 1886 and stayed for three years. Later, Hassam would rightfully claim that he had already learned to paint before he came to Paris, just as he could claim that his favored subjects before 1900 -- urban and figural such as the evocative Boston Common at Twilight, 1885-6 (MFA Boston) -- he had found already in Boston. Reflecting at one point in his life about his early years in Boston, he wrote, "The Street (Columbus Avenue where he lived) was all paved in asphalt, and I used to think it very pretty when it was wet and shining, and caught the reflections of passing people and vehicles. I was always interested in the movements of humanity in the street...."[3] And his interest in modern urban life and the visual effects of reflected light and of the mix of light and atmosphere at different times of the day made him susceptible to the much brighter palette and fragmented strokes of the Impressionists as well as the urban contemporaneity of the Realists. Le Jour du Grand Prix was his first Salon-scale impressionist painting and fully established his reputation as a painter of the modern world.[4]
Prendergast seems to have discovered in Paris a renewed belief in abstraction and color based on his profound admiration for Paul Cézanne's paintings and those of other modernists. Their influence appears in Prendergast's late summer oils of the seaside resort of St, Malo that he painted after he had left Paris, The St. Malo paintings were also those which he exhibited in the notorious 1908 exhibition "The Eight" which traveled around the United States the following year, Although the exact paintings of the exhibition cannot be identified, Lighthouse at St. Malo (c. 1907,...), if not actually exhibited, would be similar to those that were. Lighthouse of St. Malo emphasizes brush strokes and patches of color that build to suggest the larger structures of the design. The painting is composed in browns, bluish-greens and touches of red; scale and a slight flattening of color distinguish foreground from background and suggest depth.[6] This level of abstraction was striking to Prendergast's American audience, especially in the context of other paintings in "The Eight," and abstraction also diminished the familiar and anecdotal quality found in his earlier work. The specifics of time and social narrative generally define his work before 1910 and, in Beechmont (1900-05, ...), Prendergast not only documented the new found pleasures of the middle class at the seaside but compositionally arranged the figures -- perhaps tongue-in-cheek -- as though performers on a dance hall stage. While pattern comprised an important component in all of Prendergast's paintings, many works before 1910 were structured by shape-defining areas of bold, saturated color. By contrast, color in Lighthouse of St. Malo is fragmented into brief brushstrokes that weave a more complicated pattern. The element of fragmentation and abstraction led a critic of Prendergast's work to quip that his St. Malo paintings "look for all the world like an explosion in a color factory."[7]
[3] Quoted in Adelson, p. 12 (Warren Adelson, Jay E. Cantor, and William Gerdts, Childe Hassam, Impressionist (New York, Abbeville Press, 1999)
[4] For this painting specifically see: New Britain Museum of American Art: Highlights of the Collection, v. 1 (Munich: Prestel Verlag, 1999) pp. 82-3
[6] All of the Benton Museum Prendergasts were published in 1985: Harold Spencer, "Some Works by Maurice Prendergast," Bulletin, no. 13 (Storrs, CT: The William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, 1985) 3-30. unfortunately, the illustrations were printed in black and white and the subtlety of color gradations was completely lost.
[7] Quoted in Mathews, p. 26 (Nancy Mowll Mathews, Maurice Prendergast (Munich: Prestel Verlag, 1990)

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