From tender shore scenes to ‘sea-change’

“The Promenade” shows artist Maurice Prendergast’s Armory Show-era style.
“The Promenade” shows artist Maurice Prendergast’s Armory Show-era style.Sheldan C. Collins

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The cleanest critical response to “Maurice Prendergast: By the Sea” at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art — the loveliest, most languid art show of this New England summer — is probably: See it. Drink it in. Then go find a beach, try to re-create some of the show’s simple joys.

But of course criticism hates to be clean and simple. And Maurice Brazil Prendergast, a phenomenon as anomalous and unlikely as his name, invites his share of chewy critical reflection. The Bowdoin show, although it hinges on a single theme — the seaside — functions as a Prendergast retrospective (the first in over two decades) largely because the artist focused so intently, so nearly exclusively, on that theme. And like all good retrospectives, it poses questions.

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