01 Painting, Streets of Paris, Maurice Brazil Prendergast’s Montparnasse, with footnotes, Part 80

Maurice Brazil Prendergast, 1858–1924
Montparnasse, circa 1907

Watercolor and pencil on paper
13 ¾ by 20 in., 34.9 by 50.8 cm.
Private collection

The Boulevard du Montparnasse is a two-way boulevard in Montparnasse, in the 6th, 14th & 15th arrondissements in Paris. Students in the 17th century who came to recite poetry in the hilly neighbourhood nicknamed it after “Mount Parnassus”, home to the nine Muses of arts and sciences in Greek mythology.

The hill was levelled to construct the Boulevard Montparnasse in the 18th century. During the French Revolution many dance halls and cabarets opened their doors.

The area is also known for cafés and bars, such as the Breton restaurants specialising in crêpes located a few blocks from the Gare Montparnasse. More on The Boulevard du Montparnasse

Maurice Prendergast was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on Oct. 10, 1859. When his father’s grocery business failed in 1861, the family moved to Boston. He and his younger brother Charles finished their formal education by the time each was 14. Maurice worked in a dry-goods store, lettered show cards, and began sketching landscapes and cattle. In 1886, he and his brother worked their way to England on a cattle boat; they may have gone to Paris as well. Returning to Boston, they worked at routine jobs in order to save $1,000 for a return to Europe. Maurice went to Paris in 1891 and studied with Jean Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian. He made rapid progress in 3 years, working from the model rather than from casts. He was fascinated with the life and movement in the parks, boulevards, and cafés.

When he returned to America in 1894, Prendergast was an accomplished watercolorist and had assimilated qualities from Édouard Manet, James McNeill Whistler, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, and Édouard Vuillard and from Japanese prints. He was the first American artist to appreciate and understand the importance of Paul Cézanne. Until 1905 the Prendergast brothers lived together in Winchester, Mass., their principal means of support being a frame-making shop. Maurice’s work was included for the first time in a public exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1896; there was a one-man show in Boston the next year, and from this time until his death his paintings appeared in many exhibitions. More on Maurice Prendergast

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