Three subway scenes from a 1930s painter

The head scarves, newspapers, advertisements, and hats are definitely Depression-era. Substitute the newspapers for iPhones, however, and it’s eerily familiar.


This 1935 painting by Daniel Celentano, Subway, looks strangely contemporary: a packed car, a cross-section of New Yorkers, and almost everyone minding their own business, looking down or away.


Celentano needs more recognition. A WPA muralist born in 1902, he grew up as one of 15 kids in a Neapolitan family in Harlem’s Little Italy.


His 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 Station.

CelentanoselfportraitIn the second painting, Celentano gives us a glimpse of the hustle and bustle under the elevated tracks in a working-class New York neighborhood.

Celentano’s New York Street Scene, the third painting here, offers a view of the 1930s elevated train far off in the distance. But what is going on in that green booth with a figure of a woman hanging inside it?

[Above, Celentano’s self-portrait, 1940]

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14 Responses to “Three subway scenes from a 1930s painter”

  1. Human Relationships Says:

    Reblogged this on Human Relationships.

  2. Judith Redfern Says:

    Street photography but in oils. Brilliant. Never heard of him before and i do very much like his style.

  3. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    Beautiful, I’m now working on my book, Eroticism on the Subway, still have many pages to go, but Ooh la la!

  4. Phyllis Craine Says:

    I think that image of a woman (and I also think it’s a girl) is someone standing in front of the building behind that box. She’s “floating” and looks like she’s inside the box due to the distortion of the glass.

  5. GhostBikeCollector Says:

    The green booth in the third painting looks like a mechanical gypsy fortune teller. They were pretty popular arcade amusements and occasionally found outside stores in some neighborhoods such as the Little Italys in Manhattan, the Bronx and parts of Brooklyn during the 1900s to mid 1950s. I remember seeing a couple of old relics as a kid during the early ’60s in Greenpoint and Williamsburg.

  6. David Jarrett Says:

    the third painting is the corner of West 10th Street and Seventh Avenue, with the church in the background. David Jarrett in South Beach Florida


  7. Gary Says:

    There’s one of the fortune-telling gypsies (but male) still around. Zoltar at Gem Spa on St Mark’s place

  8. William Krause Says:

    The “Green Booth”? Just an add-on to the store’s window display. This one free-standing on the sidewalk, looks empty. Many small shops had them, but were easily & often burglarized. Mr. Celentano’s works reflect the “how it was” of the time. Good stuff.

  9. Anita Murphy Says:

    Love his work.

  10. lettaloo Says:

    Subways are still just as packed.

  11. Tim G. Says:

    The man next to the green booth appears to be making the sign of the cross and has his hat over his heart. My guess if that the green booth is a catholic shrine of some sort. The figure inside could be Jesus Christ or St. Francis of Assisi.

  12. Tim G. Says:

    Following my earlier comment I googled “sidewalk shrines nyc” and found the following article:
    The title is “Sidewalk Altars of New York’s Italian Americans”.

    Coincidentally I saw Lily Furedi’s painting “Subway” last week at the National Portrait Gallery which is a very similar style and subject matter.

  13. Steph Says:

    Thanks for posting jstor article, Tim G! Joe Sciorra is a good friend and also a noted folklorist. He specializes in Italian American material culture. FYI: Here’s another great Celentano work: Festival, 1934:

  14. Nikki Parsons Says:

    Interesting to me that there are men sitting and women standing in the first painting. Also, am I the only one who sees Jay-Z? LoL

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