The Grand Canal, Venice by Maurice Brazil Prendergast in 1898–99

Watercolorist and oil painter Maurice Brazil Prendergast produced vivid, modernist compositions that capture the sparkling effects of light and movement in public places.

Painted during his eighteen-month stay in Italy, in 1898 and 1899, this work provides a bird’s-eye view of a bustling area along the central Venetian canal. Façades of splendid palaces border the waterway, while formal and color contrasts emphasize a surprisingly vertical division between land and water.

A crowd of pedestrians on the street offers a strong counterpoint to the brightly shining water on the left, where a handful of gondolas punctuate the surface. Carefully inserted are white-clad figures that balance the rich colors of the busy scene and demonstrate Prendergast’s polished compositional skills.

His mastery of watercolor technique allows the colors to merge with one another while retaining their individuality. The picture confirms the artist’s status as an innovative interpreter of modern life.

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