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.
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.
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).
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.
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.