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William Congdon was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on April 15, 1912. After studying at Yale University from 1930 to 1934, he pursued a growing interest in art by taking painting lessons in Provincetown with Harry Hensche as well as drawing and sculpture lessons first in Boston under George Demetrious, then in Gloucester. Afterwards, Congdon moved to Philadelphia, where he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for a few months. He produced his first paintings and traveled through Europe, becoming familiar with the various artistic trends that were developing at the time.
During the Second World War, he was a volunteer in the American Field Service and worked as an ambulance driver. This experience led him to travel to North Africa, Italy, France, and Belgium and had a deep impact on his work, as evidenced by his sketches of those years. At the end of the war, Congdon stayed in Italy for a while to help rehabilitate those areas that had been most stricken, and in 1948 he moved to New York, where he met the major protagonists of American Abstract Expressionism. Congdon started showing at the Betty Parsons Gallery the following year, and he became acquainted with Mark Rothko and Richard Posette-Dart. The city itself served as the main subject of his paintings, and though they were clearly influenced by Paul Klee and Jackson Pollock’s pouring techniques, they made an original contribution to the body of American art for their unique balancing of Abstract Expressionism and the European figurative tradition.
Despite success in the United States, Congdon decided to move to Venice in the 1950’s, which is where he met Peggy Guggenheim. The city very notably influenced his painting, as did trips to the Sahara Desert, Algeria, Santorin, Greece, and Guatemala. In 1959 he converted to Catholicism, moved to Assisi, and for a number of years painted primarily religious subjects. He soon abandoned this direction and returned to themes more familiar to his paintings, and despite not exhibiting for some years, he did not lose his productive rhythm. His pictorial language underwent a profound transformation in 1979 following his relocation to Gudo Gambaredo in the outskirts of Milan where he died April 15, 1998. Thereafter, various retrospectives in Ferrara, Milan, Madrid, and Providence, RI have reasserted the maturity and completeness of his painting.