In the early 1950’s, Venice appeared on Congdon’s geographical and emotional horizons. Venice seduced him with its beauty. A passionate relationship developed between the city of lagoons and the painter: firstly Venice overwhelmed him with its charm, then, like a demanding lover, it almost entirely absorbed him, until finally it bored him, leaving him empty and anxious to find another. In his first stays in Venice in 1948/49 Congdon was not fully engaged: seduced by the city’s ornamental charm and its Mediterranean sensuality, he remained on the surface, still a spectator and not yet an ‘interpreter’ of the city.
When he returned there in 1950, his relationship with the city changed. After his New York and Italian experiences, ever more alone and vulnerable, Congdon brought his questions and open wounds to Venice. Providence, Bergen Belsen, and New York had marked him with the indelible stain of corruption and death. Now the splendor of Venice bedazzled him like an enticing promise.
«The chaotic mass of the black city had now split to create a corridor between the two buildings flanking the piazza.
The orange moon that had risen above my fear-ridden vision of New York became the golden basilica of S. Marco to which I now had access. No longer a disc vague as a distant planet, but a haven into which I could enter. The basilica loomed larger and began to dominate. I began to mix gold into my colors. This gold seemed to breathe from within my basilicas, and became for me, as for the medieval mosaicists, a spiritual symbol.»
Congdon set up a number of studios in Venice and spent long periods there. St Mark’s Square became the subject of dozens of paintings. He obsessively returned to the same places, reproducing them in similar but always slightly different ways. There was no repetition. He did not paint a subject to free himself of it, to finish it off, but always to start it again; penetrating further into the subject and recreating it with each painting. Peggy Guggenheim thought that his Venetian views were the first, after Turner’s, to interpret the beauty of Venice in an original way.
His connection with Venice was inversely proportional to that with his own country. During the 1950’s his trips to the USA became ever shorter and almost exclusively related to his professional activity. However, Congdon continued to consider himself as an American artist in cultural exile. Indeed the American public remained his prime market. After four intense years of passion, his romance with Venice also came to an end. In 1951 his wanderings took him elsewhere.