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Guatemala no.7 (Dying Vulture), 1957 (February)

During the 1950s Congdon travelled extensively across the world, including North Africa, the Middle East, South America and India. In early 1957 his search for new subjects took him to Guatemala. There he spent nearly two months painting in a studio he set up in the semi-ruined Convent of the Carmen, in Antigua. In a letter to Ede, a close friend of his, he described it as a ‘dark and windowless chapel, the only light coming from a tiny cupola’, and mentioned the many vultures flying overhead.

In Antigua Congdon made five paintings of vultures, a subject with deep symbolical connotations. He treated the bird as an expression of grief and suffering, anticipating the more overtly religious subjects of his later work. In old age he came to consider this painting, which Jim acquired in 1969, as one of his more successful.

Painting [WC 13]


Oil on hardboard

885 x 1210 mm

About the artist

Congdon was born at Rhode Island, USA, and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He began to paint whilst studying English and Spanish literature at Yale University. He travelled extensively in Europe in the 1930s, before returning to the US in 1937 and sculpting for a period. Following war service as an ambulance driver in Africa and Italy, Congdon returned to New York, where he began to paint semi-abstract landscapes and urban scenes. In 1950 he returned to Italy, accompanied by Jim Ede, and painted intensively in Venice and Rome. These works were instrumental in establishing his reputation. In the late 1950s he settled in Italy and converted to Catholicism. He lived in Assisi in the 1960s and 1970s, painting series of pictures of Venice and Subiaco. From 1979 he lived in a monastry in Gudo Gambaredo, near Milan. Illness and old age hampered his output in his last years, although he was enthusiastically involved with his "Foundation for Improving Understanding of the Arts". Congdon typically constructed his paintings from thick layers of paint into which the outline of the subject is scored. A compulsive traveller, his range of subject matter is very diverse, and there is a persistent spiritual element underpinning his art.