Daniel R. Celentano (1902-1980)

Shooting Craps

late 1930s

Graphite on paper, 12 x 9 inch sheet. Estate stamped on verso.

Exhibitions:

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

Reproduced:

Enduring America (catalogue).

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:

Artist’s estate; Janet Marqusee Fine Arts, New York City; to a California collector in whose family it descended until acquired for this collection through Arlene Berman Fine Arts, New York City, April 24, 2004. 

Notes:

Framed and matted within dark-stained hardwood frame. Bears label of Janet Marqusee Fine Arts Ltd.

Fig. 1 - Daniel R. Celentano, Dice Playing, 1930s. Present whereabouts unknown.

       The Italian-American painter Daniel Celentano (Fig. 2) undoubtedly found the subject matter for Shooting Craps in the Italian Harlem neighborhood in upper Manhattan that inspired much of his work.  Street corners, porches and alleyways were routinely commandeered as gathering places for makeshift games of dice.  The activity was also a frequent subject for photojournalists such as Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine.  A game of craps provided instant neighborhood entertainment at minimal cost.  All that was required was a few minutes of time and a pair of dice. Celentano took advantage of the range of values offered by graphite: he emphasized the moment of the crap shoot by intensifying and complicating the rendering of bodies and clothes on figures closer to the game.  Peripheral figures and the streetscape fade away, concentrating our attention on the gamblers.

 

       Idle time was overly plentiful in the absence of jobs during the Depression.  The dice players in Celentano’s composition (including both older boys and adults) found reassurance in social interaction and a welcome distraction from the challenges of daily survival.  At another level, the game of chance serves as a metaphor for the vagaries of life.* 

 

       Shooting Craps is one of at least two preliminary studies for a larger, as yet unlocated work.  A second study (Fig. 1), an oil of about the same size, has a variant background and an additional spectator.

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* The foregoing was adapted from the entry for this work by Arthur D. Hittner and George V. Speer which appeared in the catalogue Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner.

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Fig. 2 - Daniel R. Celentano, Self-Portrait, c. 1940,

graphite on paper, 11 x 8 1/2 inches.  Hittner collection.