The 1930s Little Italy of a New York–born painter

Born in East Harlem’s Little Italy in 1902, Daniel R. Celentano studied with painter Thomas Hart Benton as a kid and later worked as an artist for the WPA.

He painted scenes all over New York but is perhaps best known for his depictions of sometimes raucous, sometimes solemn Italian-American neighborhood life during the Depression and World War II.

“Festival,” from 1934, features a “lively scene, evoking the scents of tasty Italian food, is overshadowed by the immense natural-gas tanks at the right that once blighted Manhattan’s immigrant slums,” states the Smithsonian website.

“Italian Harlem Street Scene” (I’m not certain of the exact date) is more foreboding.

The cross way in the distance on top of the tenement looks like it’s about to snap in the wind.

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12 Responses to “The 1930s Little Italy of a New York–born painter”

  1. Patricia Sahertian Says:

    Wasn’t that area just called Italian Harlem and Little Italy reserved for the Italian area on the lower east side?

    • wildnewyork Says:

      When I research, I often come across references to the many Little Italy neighborhoods that used to be in the city, like in Soho and East Harlem. Somehow the one on Mulberry Street became the official Little Italy.

      • Joe R Says:

        The WPA Guide to New York, in their chapter on the “Harlems”, refers to a Negro (sic) Harlem, a Spanish Harlem and an Italian Harlem. It also points out the church in the upper photo as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, hence the feast. My grandparents lived on 108th and 1st Avenue in the 60’s and I recall seeing the feast of Mt Carmel being celebrated in the area during the Spring.
        Also, I do recall reading somewhere of yet another “Little Italy” in what we now call Manhattanville, in the West 100’s.

  2. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    I wonder if he painted the cross because it actually looked that way or was that a symbol of something?

  3. Joe R Says:

    I think that the first picture is of the Feast of Mt Carmel. The church in the background is apparently one on E 115th Street, around the corner from Rao’s Restaurant.

  4. Phil Says:

    Don’t forget Arthur Ave in da Bronx as a strong Italian neighborhood…

  5. Warming up by the stove in a city el station « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Daniel R. Celentano depicts tired, weary commuters staying warm by waiting indoors for their train in “L Waiting Station.” I couldn’t find the date, but I’d say it’s the late 1930s or early 1940s. I wonder what station we’re looking at. […]

  6. GregoryMCelentano Says:

    Thank you so much for posting these pictures. Daniel R. Celentano was my grandfather. I wish I could tell you more about them unfortunately he passed on when I was only 3. Daniel was his Anglicized name, his birth name was Donato. My father was named Daniel. Unfortunately my father and grandmother didn’t keep very good records after his passing so much of my history was lost. I am pleased by the fact that there are people out there such as yourself, who still appreciate my grandfather’s historic and picturesque works. Thank you for posting these.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I’m so glad you wrote in! His work is excellent, his New York so vivid and alive.

    • Meryl Segal Says:

      I have two paintings by Daniel Celentano. My grandfather was a doctor in NYC and Celentano was a patient. He couldn’t pay the fees, so he painted a portrait of my grandfather and also gave him a painting of a subway scene. After living outside NYC for many years, I have returned, and the subway scene, cleaned and restored, has the place of honor in my apartment.

  7. Three subway scenes from a 1930s painter | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] work captures the rhythms of 1930s life in the city’s immigrant enclaves and beyond: festivals inspired by saints, laborers at work, and a coal stove keeping passengers warm as they wait for the train in an El […]

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