Williams College Museum of Art

Williamstown, Massachusetts


Maurice Prendergast: The State of the Estate


Sketches and abandoned works are some of the most intriguing of those left behind in an artist's studio. Their fragmentary nature suggests that we have caught the artist in mid-thought.

Prendergast typically sketched outdoors on small wood panels or sketchbooks that would fit into his paintbox. He seldom developed these sketches into finished paintings, but instead invented new compositions with only indirect references to the sketches he made.

His abandoned watercolors, such as Central Park, reveal that the liveliness of the completed work was actually the product of an unusually controlled painting method. After making a detailed pencil sketch of the entire composition, he filled in areas of color as if they were interlocking puzzle pieces that he carefully fit together.


Central Park, New York, c. 1901

Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1858-1924)

watercolor and pencil on paper

15 1/4 x 22 inches

Williams College Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Charles Prendergst in memory of Maurice and Charles Prendergast


Even "finished" oils like A Day in the Country could lose this status in Prendergast's eyes if, one day, he spotted the work in his studio and decided it needed to be revised. Most of his later oils show his continuous tinkering and, since they were often exhibited and sold with large, unresolved areas, it is certain that Prendergast believed in the aesthetics of the unfinished.


Study St. Malo, No. 12, c. 1907

Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1858-1924)

oil on panel

10 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches

Williams College Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Charles Prendergst


Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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