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Daniel Celentano (1902 – 1980)

Self Portrait, c. 1940s, oil on canvas, 14 ¼ x 12 1/4 inches, signed lower left, presented in a newer frame


Daniel Celentano was an American Scene painter who is well known for depictions of his Italian neighborhood in East Harlem. The son of Italian immigrants, Celentano was born into a large family. As a child, he suffered from polio which impacted the use of his right leg. During this time of struggle and with the support of his parents, Celentano began to focus on art. Once recovered, he began to study painting at the age of twelve with Thomas Hart Benton. In 1918 Celentano won the first of several scholarships to study art at Charles Hawthorne's Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, the New York School of Fine and Applied Art in Greenwich Village, and the National Academy of Design.

During the Great Depression, Celentano worked as an artist for Federal public works projects, receiving a commission in 1938 from the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture for a mural entitled The Country Store and Post Office for the post office in Vidalia, Georgia. He also painted murals for two high schools, Andrew Jackson (1940) and St. Albans (1941), both in Queens, and a large mural called Children in Constructive Recreation and Cultural Activity in Public School 150 in Long Island City, as well as assisting William C. Palmer in painting murals for the new Queens General Hospital in Jamaica. In 1936, Celentano painted a mural called Commerce for the Flushing branch of the Queens Borough Public Library.


Celentano exhibited widely in galleries in New York, Detroit, and Philadelphia, where his paintings were well received. From 1935 through 1939 Celentano was represented by the Walker Gallery, whose artists included other important Regionalist and Social Realist painters, such as Benton, Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry, Doris Lee and Walt Kuhn. In 1939 writing about Celentano’s solo exhibition at the gallery, the critic for the New York Sun noted, "He paints the humble domestic life that he knows with a frankness as to its happenings, a sympathy and a tireless eye for detail that command respect, if not enthusiasm. The curious may learn all about that life from his paintings without going to the trouble of doing settlement work or running the slightest risk of getting out of their class."

In addition to his genre scenes, throughout his career, Celentano often turned his attention to his own visage, creating a series of self-portraits that captured the artist's growing maturity, confidence and wisdom. The present example is typical of Celentano's straight-forward realism of the late 1940s.


Celentano's exhibitions included shows at the Brooklyn Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, the Pennsylvania Academy, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Golden Gate International Exposition all included Celentano’s paintings from the 1930s and 1940s.

After the United States entered World War II he took a job in the art department of the Grumman Aircraft Corporation in Bethpage, Long Island, where he made a mural called The Flight of Man. Celentano continued to live in New York and practice his craft until his death in 1980. His works are in the collections of the Whitney, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the National Gallery. He is listed in Who Was Who in American Art and all other standard references.  


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