Piazza di San Marco

Artist: Maurice Brazil Prendergast (American, St. John’s, Newfoundland 1858–1924 New York)

Date: ca. 1898–99

Medium: Watercolor and graphite on off-white wove paper

Dimensions: 16 11/16 x 15 3/8 in. (42.4 x 39.1 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Gift of Estate of Mrs. Edward Robinson, 1952

Accession Number: 52.126.6


Prendergast's watercolors represent the preeminent dimension of his oeuvre, and the primary vehicle of his distinctive modernism. Formally trained in Paris and influenced by James A. M. Whistler and the Nabis, Prendergast brought an approach to watercolor marked by breadth and simplicity of design balanced with an astonishing deftness and discretion of touch that belie the qualities of spontaneity and kinesis that he so often achieved. His watercolors of sites in his hometown of Boston, on the one hand, and Venice, on the other, rank among his finest productions. Here the prospect of the Piazza San Marco to the lagoon at left is transformed into a collagelike pinwheel pattern of sunlit and shadowed planes of architecture, water, and pavement. The latter is gaily speckled with pedestrians and the whole design compelled to the picture surface by the brilliant flags, whose recession into space is undercut by the truncation of their forms, their uniform intensity of hue, and the undiminishing size of the crosses that decorate them.