A selection of paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints by the New England modernist Maurice Prendergast (1858–1924) provide an engaging chronicle of daily life. Gathered from several of the Metropolitan Museum's collections, the exhibition presents some seventy works, the first display of the Museum's entire holdings of Prendergast's work. Cursory pencil drawings of quotidian Parisian life, luminous, large-scale watercolors, and oil paintings of recreational activities on the Massachusetts shore and in New York's Central Park chronicle a lifetime of plein-air observation.
The exhibition includes the forty, highly acclaimed, large-scale watercolors once bound in the Large Boston Public Garden Sketchbook (1895–97), works that reveal fleeting, incidental imagery in shimmering hues. The highly finished Boston Public Garden watercolors had not been shown together for more than a decade because of their sensitivity to light. They reveal intimate details of daily life—mothers and children, idlers and strollers—all observed in one of America's iconic nineteenth-century urban landscapes. Watercolors of the bustling seaside playgrounds near Boston, of Piazza di San Marco and the Rialto bridge in Venice, and of other leisurely locales trace the artist's travels both within the United States and abroad. A jubilant spirit also characterizes the oil paintings depicting lively vignettes of horses and carriages, promenading ladies with parasols, and children at play.
Prendergast, whose career coincided with Boston's preeminence in printing and publishing in the 1890s, also worked briefly as a commercial illustrator. The exhibition features several of the artist's book designs, advertisements, and—his most ambitious publishing enterprise—the provocatively illustrated My Lady Nicotine: A Study in Smoke by J. M. Barrie.
The Robert Lehman Collection catalogue, American Drawings and Watercolors in the Robert Lehman Collection, fully illustrates the Large Boston Public Garden Sketchbook, acquired by Mr. Lehman from Mrs. Charles Prendergast in 1961.