Prendergast in Venice

These watercolors by the post-Impressionist Maurice B. Prendergast (1858 – 1924) are longtime favorites of mine.  Both are in the collection of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, though neither is currently on display.  (Why?!)  I encountered both of them there for the first time back in the early 80’s, but don’t remember if they actually were on display at the time, or if postcards beckoned from racks in the museum store.

Whichever the circumstance, the paintings beckoned, and that’s what matters: they’d captured my attention.

Prendergast_Sunlight on the Piazzetta (2)
Sunlight on the Piazzetta, Venice, ca. 1898-99; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

If I had to say what it was, exactly, that drew me in, it would be the disks and splotches of color–those umbrellas, whether shielding from sunshine or rain–bobbing in space.

Prendergast_Umbrellas in the rain
Umbrellas in the Rain, 1899; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Similarly, color appeals in the work below as well, and the play of light on the water and bustle of people along the canal lend vibrancy.  (The mood in these paintings stands in stark contrast to the lugubrious vibe suffusing the 1973 film Don’t Look Now, based on a short story by Daphne Du Maurier).

Prendergast_The Grand Canal (2)
The Grand Canal, Venice, 1898-99; Terra Museum of Art, Evanston

Finally, the inclusion of this last painting seems apropos.  It’s Prendergast’s depiction of an event–the Festa del Redentore, or the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer–that takes place every year on the third Sunday of July and commemorates the end of a plague that killed ~50,000 people in the 16th century. In addition to a fireworks display, the tradition includes a gathering of boats and gondolas, festooned with lanterns, garlands and balloons, on the water in St. Mark’s basin.

Prendergast_Festadel Redentore
Festa del Redentore, ca. 1899; Williams College Museum of Art (the WCMA has the world’s largest collection of works by Prendergast and his brother Charles, another artist).
Fiesta del Redentore
The ‘real thing’….

After experiencing Venice only via depictions in art, I finally made it there myself in the spring of 1992, at the tail end of a year I’d spent working in a HIV/AIDS clinic in Switzerland.  The city is unique, a place where getting lost–very easy to do, in the maze of canals–is actually fun.  Interestingly, one of my most vivid memories of my time there was something that happened back in the States.  While having breakfast in my B&B one morning, I noticed a man at a neighboring table reading an Italian newspaper, the front page of which had one or two large black and white photos of chaotic scenes and a headline with the words ‘Los Angeles’.  I was certain there’d been an earthquake, but the coverage was of the riots following the Rodney King verdict.


  • Lovely — and so clever of you to include a photo of the “real thing!” I’ve never been to Venice. A couple of weeks ago, when Byron was paying us a rare visit (I may have mentioned that he’s now back in NYC, following a three-year sojourn in Paris), I overheard him telling Dean that of all the cities he’s experienced (he’s already been in 24 countries, at the tender age of 28!), VENICE is his very favorite!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kristina, Byron might get a kick out of the fact that the poet, Byron, also loved Venice:
      My beautiful, my own
      My only Venice-this is breath! Thy breeze
      Thine Adrian sea-breeze, how it fans my face!
      Thy very winds feel native to my veins,
      And cool them into calmness!


  • Williams College Museum of Art has some amazing pieces done by Maurice and Charles. If you haven’t already been, let’s plan a visit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sheila, I immediately thought of you when I learned, while reading for background on this post, that the WCMA had a huge Prendergast archive. (I included a link to it in the caption of the Redentore painting…)


  • Loved the Prendergast art. And I love Venice Am trying to figure out when i can get there again. Love your blog. Have missed them LV

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks LV; Prendergast did many more paintings of Venice, and of other Italian locales as well. I, too, would like to get back to Venice someday…maybe in combination with a visit to Dubrovnik. Really happy you’re enjoying the blog; inspiration was sagging there for a while, but I think I’m getting my groove back.


  • Water and watercolours. Really lovely.
    I remember my second visit to Venice (the first was on a “It’s Tuesday it must be Italy” tour) and the moment of delight when I realised that the way to explore this extraordinary city was to only bring out your map when your feet demanded a rest or your stomach food.

    When you were there, did you get to the Peggy Guggenheim? It made a huge impression on me in 1990.

    PS. A friend told me last night that she has booked her annual Winter pilgrimage to Venice. ‘I love it in Winter’ she said.

    PPS. Have I told you about my new blog? Lonely Keyboards; that’s who I’m commenting as today.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Bruce! Yes, you’d mentioned you had a new blog, but in my (v-e-r-y slow) catching up on VC posts I hadn’t yet seen any mention of it, so thank you for commenting in your new persona.

      Yes, I did go to the Guggenheim in ’92, and loved it. In my reading and exploration for this post, I learned there’d been an entire exhibition of Prendergast’s Italy paintings at the Guggenheim back in 2009-2010. Now THAT would have been fun to see.

      Off to check out a new blog I’ve heard about…!

      Liked by 1 person

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