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The work of the American painter Maurice Prendergast is closely linked to the European Post-Impressionist movement. During his formative years in Paris he was influenced by the oeuvre of Paul Cézanne and developed in interest in Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, whose influence led him to adopt a flat, colourful and decorative type of painting featuring outdoor urban scenes.
In 1898, having attained a certain amount of prestige in Boston, where he lived at the time, Maurice Prendergast again travelled to Europe. This time he toured Italy, visiting Venice, Siena, Florence and Rome, among other cities. Although his Italian paintings do not evidence stylistic changes, they display a greater fluidity of colour and cohesion between the figures. The Race Track, a watercolour painted in the Borghese gardens in Rome, is executed using his personal technique of small patches of colour, pieced together in the manner of a mosaic. Despite the very high horizon line that gives the composition a flat appearance, here Prendergast wishes to emphasise depth by means of the curved lines that delimit the racing track. The cold tone of the different shades of green is broken only by the tiny dots of colour of the clothing worn by the passers-by.
This watercolour, like most of the works painted during Prendergast’s trip to Italy, was shown at his solo exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in New York early in 1900. In its chronicle of the show, The New York Times detected “a slight suggestion of Japanese art in his tiny figures in their gay attire and parasols” and ended by stating that “the work of Mr. Prendergast shows abundant promise.”
The watercolour belonged to the artist’s brother Charles Prendergast, who regarded it as one of Maurice’s most delicate works. This prestigious framer of paintings also owned an oil version with the same title.