Daniel R. Celentano (1902-1980)

The Houseboat

c. 1937

Oil on canvas, 20 x 26 inches. Signed lower left: "D R Celentano".  Undated (tentative date based on two other works, Commerce, dated 1936, and Harlem Waterfront (Fig. 1, below), dated 1938, in which similar vessels appear).

Exhibitions:

Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.

Reproduced:

Hittner, Arthur D., "Art of the Thirties: Rediscovered Masters of the American Scene," Antiques & Fine Art, Autumn/Winter, 2009, p. 167; Enduring America (catalogue); Speer, George V. and Arthur D. Hittner, "Enduring America: The Collection of Art & Peggy Hittner," American Art Review, June, 2015, p. 85.

References:

Hills, Patricia, Social Concern and Urban Realism: American Painting of the 1930s (Boston University Art Gallery, 1983), p. 37; Marqusee, Janet, Daniel Celentano (Janet Marqusee Fine Art, 1992); Berardi, Marianne, Under the Influence: The Students of Thomas Hart Benton (The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, 1993), pp. 63-66.

Provenance:

Acquired (probably directly from the artist) in the 1930s by Alfred Albelli (1901-1983), longtime courthouse reporter for the New York Daily News; given by him to his long-time friend and companion, Elva Bunting (1912-1999) and inherited by her nephew, Gary E. Johnson of North Plainfield, NJ; acquired in 2003 by Arlene Berman Fine Arts, New York City; acquired from the foregoing, April 24, 2004. (See entry for Celentano's Reading the News for additional background.)

Notes:

Period (but not original) frame with white cloth liner. 

       Daniel Ralph Celentano was born in the lower Manhattan district known as “Little Italy” where he lived with fourteen siblings. Demonstrating an early aptitude for art, he began his formal training at the age of twelve, becoming the first pupil of Thomas Hart Benton. Three years later, he received a scholarship to the New York School of Applied and Fine Arts, where he studied with Howard Giles. The young artist subsequently attended the Cape Cod School of Art and National Academy of Design with the assistance of additional grants.

       Celentano began exhibiting in New York City in 1930, showing three works at Alfred Stieglitz's Opportunity Gallery. Positive reviews led to further exposure in commercial galleries as well as participation in the prestigious annual exhibitions at the Whitney, Corcoran, Carnegie and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. During the Depression years, he took part in the mural program of the Works Progress Administration, planning and executing murals at several locations in New York City and in Vidalia, Georgia. One such mural, Commerce, created for the Queens Borough Public Library in New York City in 1936, includes a boat similar to that featured in this work.

       The artist drew his inspiration from the daily activities of his friends and neighbors in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of “Italian Harlem” where he later resided. The Houseboat is one of a number of outdoor subjects set on or adjacent to the Harlem River. Although the setting is untraditional, the family scene which Celentano depicts is familiar: a mother, infant in arms, appears ready to reprimand her roughhousing boys as the two male figures attend to their boating chores despite the distraction. The influence of Benton is readily apparent in the use of opposing diagonals tethered to the bottom center of the picture and in the dynamic rendering of the figures. 

Fig. 1 - Daniel R. CelentanoHarlem Waterfront, 1938. Private collection.

Recollections

     I was already familiar with and greatly admired the work of Daniel Celentano, having obtained and devoured a copy of a gallery exhibition catalogue on the artist produced by the late New York City dealer Janet Marqusee.  So I was primed for a visit to New York City private dealer Arlene Berman who had written to inform me that she’d recently acquired several fine Celentano paintings that she was offering for sale.

 

    We visited Arlene in the crowded New York City apartment in which she and her husband, Jeffrey Myers, maintained separate galleries (Arlene handled paintings of the Thirties and Forties while Jeffrey dealt in tribal arts and Eskimo artifacts).  Houseboat and Reading the News were on display.  We loved them both.  She also had a Celentano drawing, Shooting Craps.  I knew I had to have a Celentano, but which one? Although expensive (Celentano’s work had already drawn healthy five-figure prices at auction), all three works were beguiling.  We left Arlene’s gallery promising to reconsider our options overnight and check back in the next day.

 

     That night, we debated what, if anything, we should choose. Unable to decide and haunted by the regret I knew I’d feel in turning any of the works down, I proposed (to my wife’s horror) that we acquire all three.  I remember calling Arlene the next day with my proposal. Instead of elation, she was crushed.  As she later explained, “When I purchased the three Celentanos, I sat with them for a short time thinking about whether I should own one. I knew I couldn’t keep them all as not only couldn’t I afford to . . . but more importantly, I was trying to build my business and selling my purchases (especially the best ones) was the only way to do it.”  Losing all three was painful, she recalled, and (in retrospect) we can certainly relate.  The two oils, in particular, are among Celentano’s best works and remain pillars of our collection.