India Temples no. 1 (Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Tiruchirapalli), 1954 (February)
William Congdon belonged to the generation of painters associated with Abstract Expressionism. Born in Rhode Island (USA) in 1912, in the 1950s he settled in Italy, where he converted to Catholicism following a deep spiritual crisis. Congdon achieved prominence in post-war New York with his energetic visions of Venice, which he painted while travelling compulsively. A number of his Venetian views are on display at Kettle’s Yard, together with works inspired by visits to Turkey, Guatemala and Southern Italy.
A profound religious sense began to animate Congdon’s paintings many years before his conversion in 1958. The artist himself noted that from the late 1940s several of his works had a holy site as their central focus – although this did not become a fully conscious choice until a few years later. Amongst these is India Temples no. 1, which presents a view of the golden Hindu temples rising from the lush forest at Srirangam, in the Tiruchirapalli district (south west of Chennai). A second painting of the same site is also at Kettle’s Yard. The two works are quite similar and their likeness suggests that they were painted in quick succession.
Jim Ede gathered a group of Congdons unrivalled in any public collection outside the Foundation set up in the artist’s name. The presence of these animated paintings at Kettle’s Yard adds a deliberate note of urgency to the collection. Their positioning within the house, in particular, shows careful deliberation. With notable exceptions, the major pieces are concentrated in the bridge between the cottage and the extension, suggestive of the change of mood brought about by the change of scale. As well as reflecting the intensity of the painter’s experience (each work was produced in a single session), they indicate a passion in Jim Ede as a collector which is perhaps not as evident elsewhere.
Provenance: purchased by H.S. Ede from the artist, 1956
Painting [WC 10]
Oil, gold paint and enamel on hardboard (Masonite)
1250 x 1400 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.