Charles E. Prendergast (1863-1948) Fantasy 23 x 31in (Executed circa 1916-18.)

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Lot 11
Charles E. Prendergast
Fantasy 23 x 31in

Sold for US$ 704,075 inc. premium

American Art

22 May 2019, 16:00 EDT

New York

Charles E. Prendergast (1863-1948)
signed 'C. Prendergast' (lower left)
tempera, gold leaf and pencil on incised gessoed panel
23 x 31in
Executed circa 1916-18.


  • Provenance
    Mrs. Sally Lewis, Portland, Oregon, by 1924.
    By descent to the present owner.

    Portland, Oregon, Portland Art Association, French and American Paintings, Drawings, Bronzes, African Masks: Brought from New York and Paris by Miss Sally Lewis, April 5-30, 1924, n.p., no. 44 (as Carved, Wooden Panel).
    Portland, Oregon, Portland Art Association, Loan Exhibition of Paintings Held in the New Museum of Art, November 18, 1932-January 2, 1933, p. 12, no. 87 (as A Decorative Panel).
    New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University, and elsewhere, The Art of Charles Prendergast, October 2, 1968-February 16, 1969, pp. 42, 48, no. 9, illustrated (as Decorative Panel).
    Portland, Oregon, Portland Art Museum, From Oregon Private Collections, November 16-December 30, 1977, p. 25, no. 40.

    M. Komanecky, V.F. Butera, The Folding Image: Screens by Western Artists of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, New Haven, Connecticut, 1984, p. 192, fig. 18.3, illustrated.
    C. Clark, N.M. Mathews, G. Owens, Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Charles Prendergast: A Catalogue Raisonné, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 675, no. 2239, illustrated.

    The present work retains its original frame made by the artist.

    Fantasy by Charles Prendergast is a superlative example of the artist's carved pictorial panels, created at the height of his artistic vision and technical ability, which dates to the mid-late 1910s. The present work, in the artist's carved frame, exemplifies the ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement—it showcases artistic vision with handcraftsmanship equally, and blurs the boundaries between fine art, objecthood, and decoration. The complex multi-figural composition exhibits Prendergast's hallmark mosaic-like style and unique use of media.

    Prendergast grew up with artistic leanings but did not receive formal art training until his late twenties, albeit by osmosis. In 1891, Charles accompanied his older brother, Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924), to Paris, where he attended classes at the Académie Julian. It may be said that the careers of the artistic brothers forked at this juncture—while Maurice stayed on to complete his training, Charles returned to Boston, Massachusetts by 1892 where he became a business partner with Lars F. Peterson & Co., a maker of carved wood decorative mouldings and fireplace mantels.

    At the company, though Charles was involved primarily with sales, he became heavily involved with manufacture and learned all aspects of wood carving. By 1897, Charles found himself struggling against ennui in his career, which came at a time when Maurice's artistic career was taking off in Boston and beyond. Encouraged by Maurice and their artist friends, Charles began designing and carving picture frames to complement their works, thus moving professionally in the same circles as his brother. He found frame-making to be the perfect application of his acquired skill, which required a harmonious eye toward the art it contained. Prendergast believed that "a good frame will bring out all the fine points of a good picture and it will strengthen a poor one, making it seem better than it is, although nobody who knows art will be fooled." (as quoted in E. Wilner, The Gilded Edge: The Art of the Frame, San Francisco, 2000, p. 69) Over the next decade, Charles developed a following for his artistic frames, which he collaborated closely on with Maurice and for a period with his friend Hermann Dudley Murphy (1867-1945). His frames became known for their intricately tooled and carved designs with unique motifs and experimental finishes.

    In the summer of 1911, Charles Prendergast traveled to Italy which scholar Nancy Mowll Mathews identifies as a critical turning point in his career. While the impetus for this trip is unknown, it is believed that the trip signified a professional reckoning where having mastered the craft of his work, he was "awakened" to his own artistic vision. Mathews points to the financial and professional security that would have enabled him to travel and speculates that "he planned the sojourn as a springboard into the pictorial arts.' ("Charles Prendergast: Beauties...of a Quiet Kind," American Art Review, vol. V, no. 6, Winter 1994, p. 102) Mathews suggests that Prendergast had pushed frame-making so far that the only place left for innovation was to be found within the frame. The result was a new medium for Prendergast—the carved pictorial panel.

    Fantasy, created circa 1916-18, exhibits influences of Prendergast's Italian trip, with its loose mythological and biblical iconography as well as technique. There appear to be possible references to Diana, the Three Graces, and St. Andrew whose generalized form is only reinforced by the simplicity of line in which they are rendered. The sylvan landscape is presented synoptically, a Medieval pictorial and narrative device that Prendergast likely saw on his visits to churches and museums. Though the composition is presented as vignettes, there is great care for balance and symmetry on all axes. Prendergast's technique of an incised gessoed layer with paint and gilt evokes that of Medieval altarpieces, as seen particularly in the angel. Also visible in the present work is the two-dimensional influence of Chinese and Persian miniatures, which struck Prendergast in its effects of "miniaturization and colorful simplification." (Ibid, p. 103)

    The present work is in a simply ornamented frame which carries its own staccato rhythm and further activates the animated scene within. Whether expressed on the periphery or center stage, Prendergast believed that "The art of wood carving has a message of its own to deliver, with its own peculiar and perfect way of expressing it...Our professional carvers are sometimes created as machines and
    the best way to gain recognition is to show that they are something much better than machines. Good work compels respect, and if the craftsman wishes to take a higher rank, he must become an artist as well." (as quoted in E. Wilner, p. 96)
Charles E. Prendergast (1863-1948) Fantasy 23 x 31in (Executed circa 1916-18.)
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