Venice, Rome and Williamstown, Mass.

Can’t make it to Venice this summer? Then how about a trip to the Williams College Art Museum in Williamstown, Mass., where you can see this Maurice Prendergast painting of the floating city.

Prendergast in Italy, on view July 18-Sept. 20,  is the museum’s first exhibition devoted entirely to the watercolors, monotypes and oil paintings by American artist Maurice Prendergast. Featuring over 60 views of Venice, Rome, Siena, and Capri, “Prendergast in Italy” also includes the artist’s personal sketchbooks, letters, photographs, and guidebooks from his two trips to Italy in 1898 and 1911.

Prendergast presented a view of Italy that was informed by European trends but did not disguise his strong American accent-an accent that would come to dominate international discourse in the 20th century. This interdisciplinary exhibition demonstrates the advances of abstract color and form that put Prendergast on the cutting edge of American modernism.

Since the majority of the works are of Venice, the armchair traveler will come away from this exhibition with a vivid sense of that unique city, its canals, and famous monuments as seen though the eyes of an American on the forefront of 20th-century modernism.

A large group of color monotypes showcases Prendergast’s daring approach and experimentation with the medium. Archival materials, such as photographs, letters, guidebooks, and Japanese prints belonging to the Prendergasts give context to the period and Prendergast’s unique, modern style.

The Williams College Museum of Art contains the largest collection of Prendergast paintings in the world.

Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924) made a name for himself in Boston and New York as a cutting edge Impressionist watercolorist who experimented with color monotypes. In his day, he was lauded by the more progressive art critics and attracted the support of modern art collectors. When he first departed for Italy (1898), he was an up-and-coming avant-garde artist who had recently returned to Boston from four years in Paris.

The body of work that Prendergast produced shows his struggle to pay homage to the great art he encountered in Assisi, Siena, Rome, and Venice while he grappled with the new realities of modern, unified Italy and the progressive art of his time. Prendergast’s interpretation of Venice captures a unique blend of old and new. Watercolors from his first trip to Italy are characterized by Prendergast’s interest in the Italian flag and how it symbolized a “new” Italy; he depicted it many times during this first trip. These works were sent home and exhibited in Boston even while he was still abroad. In 1900, shortly after his return to America they were showcased in his first one-person show. It was the Italian watercolors that catapulted Prendergast to a national reputation and a place among the most advanced artists in New York.

Ten years later, after assimilating the new expressionistic and abstract art theories unveiled in Paris by Matisse, Picasso, and their circle, Prendergast again departed for Italy (1911). On his second trip, Prendergast focused on the bridges of Venice, applying his new style to the emblematic architecture of the canal city. This body of work shows the advances of abstract color and form that put Prendergast at the forefront of American modernism.

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