William G. Congdon (1912-1998) “Naples 1945” Modernist Painting at Auction October 4 2017








Lot 2

Artist: William G. Congdon (American, 1912-1998)

Title: Naples, 1945 (A double sided work)

Medium: oil and mixed media on paper

Size: 14 3/4” x 20” inches (37.4 x 50.8cm)

Date: 1945

Notes: A double sided work.  The front, oil on paper, initialed, titled and dated “Naples 1945” at lower right. Verso is a watercolor Naples street scene.

Provenance: Gift of the artist to Laetitia Cerio, Capri 1950’s, by descent to her son, Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, Duke of Bivona and Count of Caltabellotta, then by descent to the current consignors.

EST: $3,500-5,000



William G. Congdon

William Grosvenor Congdon (1912-1998) was associated with the “New York School” Abstract Expressionists of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, starting with his first one-man show at the Betty Parsons gallery in 1949. The show was positively reviewed by art critic, Clement Greenberg who was impressed by Congdon’s use of color to evoke “real painterly emotion”.  Congdon showed alongside Clifford Still in 1950, and his association with Betty Parsons gallery lasted over 20 years.

At the peak of his success in the early 1950’s, Congdon, becoming more interested in spirituality, turned his back on “The American Dream”, moving to Venice, Italy. Venice became a source of endless inspiration for Congdon’s paintings which were extensively collected by Peggy Guggenheim.

“William Congdon is the only painter since Turner, who has understood Venice, its mystery, its poetry and its passion. He has a modern way of expressing himself, but his insight is as old as the city itself. He has been able to gather up the emotional essence of many centuries and has melted this vision into such a fantastic and beautiful dream that his paintings leave one breathless.” – Peggy Guggenheim 1953

Just as fascinating as the paintings being offered is their trans-Atlantic provenance. The painting in this collection were originally gifted by Congdon to fellow artist Letizia Cerio (1908-1997), of Capri, during the 1950’s. Letizia Cerio, an artist talented in her own right (Graham Greene remarked, “There is only one painter of Capri: Letizia Cerio, in whose paintings there is magic in the air”) often painted alongside Congdon during his travel in Italy. The paintings of Venice were likely given in the traditional artist exchange during these trips.

The Cerio family, one of the oldest and most renowned on Capri, were famous for hosting all the leading figures of the 20th century who came to the island: from Maxim Gorky and Lenin, to Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and Alexander Calder. The Cerio family’s branch extended to Newport, Rhode Island and Boston and as a result Letizia formative years were spent in Newport and Boston society.

Letizia married Ramiro Alvarez de Toledo, Count of Caltabellotta, and Duke of Bivona, moving to Argentina as the Second World War began, before finally settling in Concord, Massachusets, with their son, Fernando. Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, who inherited his father’s titles, Duke of Bivona and Count of Caltabellotta, became a protege of Joseph Albers at Yale University, and a leading industrial designer and pioneer of medical device technology with 39 patents, and a career that spanned the globe. The Congdon painting collection, was inherited by Fernando, and after his passing last year, passed by descent to the current consignors.


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