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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Maurice Prendergast

The artist Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924) was superb at capturing the bright colors of warm, sunny days in his paintings and prints. Born in Canada, Prendergast spent much of his life in New England and New York, as well as years studying art in Paris, France and Venice, Italy.  His abstract brushwork was influenced by the French Post-Impressionist painters he met during his travels abroad and by the group of artists known as The Ashcan School or The Eight, who were based in New York City. Prendergast's personal style of painting is frequently described as resembling a mosaic or tapestry on canvas.

The Smithsonian has a number of works by and about Prendergast scattered throughout its collections. How would you go about finding them, though?
This was an incredibly difficult task before the Smithsonian's Collections Search Center became available. Back in those days, even people who worked in a unit of the Smithsonian like the Libraries would not  know about many of the treasures lurking in the storage areas of the other research centers and museums here. This kind of information was spread out across a lot of individual databases and in-house files that were generally accessible only to staff members working in those particular units. People outside the Smithsonian were hardly aware that the museums and research centers had vast holdings of items not on display, and if they did know about things they wanted to see, they had to write individually to the curatorial staff to find out about the location of the artifacts and set up appointments to come and see these things in person.

But nowadays, it's much easier to discover what treasures the Smithsonian has! A search in the Collections Search Center on "Maurice Prendergast" pulls up over 1300 records, many featuring thumbnail images, of items from a variety of units in the Smithsonian, including the American Art Museum's Photograph Archives (Peter A. Juley and Son Collection) and the Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture; the Archives of American Art; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the National Portrait Gallery; and the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

The Collections Search Center is currently one of the best tools available for sorting through the large and disparate holdings of many units in the Smithsonian. Items included in the Collections Search Center range from printed books, manuscripts, photographs, and audiovisual recordings, to paintings, furniture, natural history specimens, postage stamps, and airplanes (so this is why the Smithsonian is sometimes called "The Nation's Attic"!).

The SIRIS Office and the SIRIS Members are continually working to add more data from individual collections databases to the Collections Search Center, helping to fulfill the Institution's digitization plan described in a recently published report, Creating a Digital Smithsonian. For more information about the Smithsonian's web and new media strategy, visit the Smithsonian Commons Prototype website, where you can vote and comment on the Smithsonian Commons concept.

Image credits:

1. Photographic portrait of Maurice Prendergast, by Gertrude Käsebier (1913), reproduction from the Macbeth Gallery records in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

2. Portrait of Miss Edith King, oil painting by Maurice Prendergast (circa 1913), reproduction from the Anna E. Wilson Memorial Collection, Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum

3. Beach Resort, oil painting by Maurice Prendergast, (1918-1923), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

--Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

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