William Congdon 1912-1998. American painter in Italy


‘The exhibition is a homage to the great painter, friend of the Meeting, who died recently. “Your work helps us towards the mystery of sanctity ” Fr Giussani wrote to Bill Congdon in 1965, “but also your person and your life are a help. That is why I love you like I would love a light ‘no matter how fainted- in the midst of a stormy sea “. The exhibition presents an unusual portrait of the American artist through pictures, photographs, copies of paintings and the TV program containing the interview given to Red Ronnie. Born in Providence (Rhode Island, USA) on 15 April 1912, William Congdon was from an aristocratic New England family: his father, Gilbert, was a steel magnate; his mother, Caroline Grosvenor, was from a dynasty of cotton magnates. After his degree in English and Spanish literature at Yale University, he started to attend painting classes run by Henry Hensche in Provincetown. He then devoted himself to the study of sculpture, under the guidance of George Demetrios, and also opened a sculpture workshop in Ladeville (Connecticut), together with his painter friend, Thomas Blagden. When the US entered the Second World War, Congdon chose to enlist as an ambulance driver in the American Field Service. He took part in the campaigns of North Africa, Italy and in 1945 he was in the rescue team in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. His experience translated itself into many pages of witnessing and many drawings. He went back to Italy in 1946 working as a volunteer in the reconstruction of some villages in the region of Molise. He lived in Capri and there started to paint again. In the spring of 1948 he moved to New York and started his phase of representing cities, beginning with the slums of Bowery. He exhibited at the prestigious Betty Parsons Gallery where he came into contact with the protagonists of American abstract Expressionism: their meetings were intense but few due to the numerous journeys which took Congdon back to Italy (Rome, Naples, Venice), and then to Egypt and Mexico. From 1950, Venice became his habitual home and his main source of inspiration. In the meantime his works received encouraging praise from the critics and the public: during the following years he took part in the major American art exhibitions and his paintings were bought by the most important museums. Towards the mid 50s his journeys intensified and he went to North Africa, to Paris, to Greece, to the near East and to Latin America, until, in 1959, he converted to Catholicism in Assisi. Having moved to this town in the Italian region of Umbria, he devoted himself for some time to religious painting, while the links with the art world became looser and were almost completely severed towards the end of the Sixties. However, his activity never ceased: after having returned to landscape painting (apart from an intense production of works dedicated to the theme of Christ crucified), in the ’70s he found inspiration in a new series of journeys which took him to Africa and India. In 1979 he moved to a country mansion in the south of Milan, close by a Benedictine monastery, Gudo Gambaredo. He lived there permanently and devoted himself to a new phase of painting, inspired by the earth and the fields. Some exhibitions – in Rimini in 1980 and 1984, in Ferrara in 1981 and 1986, in Como in 1983, in Milan in 1992, in Faenza and Bologna in 1996 – interrupted in the meantime the long period of total absence from the public scene. William Congdon died on 15 April 1998.’


23 Agosto 1998 - 29 Agosto 1998


Exhibitions Meeting Exhibitions