Maurice Brazil Prendergast was born in Saint John’s, Newfoundland, to a shopkeeper who moved the family to Boston in 1868. He left school after only eight or nine years and went to work for a commercial art firm. He never married and throughout his life was accompanied and supported by his brother Charles, a gifted craftsman and artist in his own right. According to Charles, Maurice always wanted to be an artist and spent every available moment sketching. In 1892 Maurice traveled to Paris, where he spent three years. Studying first under Gustave Courtois at the Atelier Colorossi, he eventually moved on to the Académie Julian. There he met the Canadian painter James Wilson Morrice, under whose influence he began executing pochades – small sketches on wood panels depicting elegantly dressed women and playful children at the seaside resorts of Dieppe and Saint-Malo. Back in Paris, he developed a sophisticated modern style inspired in large part by the post impressionists, particularly Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard.
In 1895, home from abroad, Prendergast joined his brother in Winchester, Massachusetts. Working in watercolor, oil, and monotype, he continued to focus on men, women, and children at leisure, strolling in parks, on the beach, or on city streets. In 1898 he went to Venice, and returned a year later with a series of watercolors of that city. In 1900 the Macbeth Galleries in New York City mounted an exhibition of his work. In 1907 Prendergast returned to France, where he was profoundly influenced by Paul Cézanne and the so-called fauve painters. Integrating these new influences into his work, Prendergast painted more forcefully, using startling, bright colors and staccato brushstrokes. As one of the group of artists called The Eight, Prendergast was sharply criticized for his more abstract and brightly colored style.
Following another trip to Venice, Prendergast returned to New York in 1911 to select works for, and participate in, the seminal Armory Show of 1913. A year later, he and Charles moved to New York City. In 1915 he was given an exhibition at the Carroll Galleries, and although the critical reception of his work remained mixed, he was able to attract a number of important patrons, among them John Quinn, Lillie B. Bliss, and Dr. Albert Barnes.