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 John Agnello  (1899 - 1982)

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Lived/Active: New York/California      Known for: painting

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John  Agnello
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information is from Maritza Oleas, who wrote it together with her fiancé Alberto Jurado, John Agnello’s stepson.  She wrote: "All information was compiled from original documents, newspapers write-ups, media interview, and photographs, which belonged to John Agnello himself and was handed down to Alberto Jurado."


John Agnello, son of Italian parents, was born in Tunisia, North Africa in 1899.  At a very early age he developed a great desire to explore the world, and to share his experiences he utilized his favorite vehicles of expression: canvas, brush and paint.  As a young man, moved by his desire to learn and improve himself, he left to France.  Marseilles was his starting point; he painted portraits and murals in Bistros, Churches, homes, etc.  Slowly he traveled through France, meeting many striving young artists like himself and acquiring a great deal of experience.

He felt, however, that he should make all human efforts to see the rest of the world and see the great masterpieces in their own environment and paint them as they were. For the next several years he traveled three continents; his only luggage was a case full of oil paints and a lot of ambition and curiosity to see more, learn more and paint more because his trademark was to paint it “like it is”.

The countries that “molded” Agnello’s talent the most were: France, Italy, Holland, England, Belgium, Germany, Finland, Greece and Turkey, where he spent approximately eight full years.  He spoke seven or eight languages, fluently, as if he were a native of each country.

Each country in its own and unique way was a great influence on the young artist. However, he felt that he could absorb and learn even more and decided to also explore the Americas.   He spent time in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. He then came to North America, U.S.A. to Massachusetts; also traveled all the West Coast. In New York he felt it was time to settle down. He, like many other artists, was part of the great “Outdoor Art Show” around Washington Square, Greenwich Village, still one of the main events of the New York Art World. John Agnello took part in every one of these exhibitions back in 1932. He had participated in the exhibits of the Society of Independent Artists (S.Indp.A.) in 1932, which had been located in NYC from 1917 to 1944. I almost forgot to mention that  in 1933, John Agnello was issued a permit by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to sketch in the galleries as a Free Lance Artist.

Nothing was too challenging for the artist, his portraits were alive, his landscapes full of activity, but all were typically and uniquely Agnello. He was a true romantic and humanist; he loved to put people in all his art-work. The precision of his religious frescos, many of prodigious size, in many churches of Europe, Latin America and the U.S.A, make it difficult to believe that he lived in the 20th Century.  He also had a tendency for allegories and graphic metaphors, but strangely enough his canvases, big or small are full of realism.

PM. Magazine (PM’S Daily picture Magazine) had captured various precious moments of Agnello’s Art Exhibitions in different locations in NYC and Brooklyn, such as Prospect Park. On October 12th, 1943 there was an article about Agnello (showing photos of him and Dan Keleber) with the text: “John Agnello, who usually works in oils (pictures behind him showing) did this quick sketch of Keleber and, to end the suspense, this is what Dan Keleber looks like to a camera (and they showed both photos, the sketch and the regular of Keleber).  In another article, at the Outdoor exhibit at Washington Square, Bela De Tirefort presents a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine and a palette to John Agnello, saying it was to symbolize the simple needs of an artist.  (Photo taken by John De Biose)

The New York Times, in June 26 or 27 of 1959, also published a note about a mural Agnello had painted for Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Martin from Island Park, Long Island. The article had information about the artist, about the fact that he stayed in the Martin's home for three weeks, and gave a brief explanation of the reasons they had brought him to their home.  He also did portraits for many customers including in 1954 Dr. I.W. Schmidt, an art collector from Riverside Dr. W in NYC.

AAgnello worked and lived in different addresses in New York city. He had a Studio at 154 W. 57th St. and 7th Ave. (Carnegie Hall) in 1955; in those years he had a Representative, Miss Robe Roye (Playwright Public Relations Representative), whose office was located at 1273 Lexington Ave. NYC (28) NY.  In 1959 he lived at 356 E. 74th St.; he also lived at 95 E. 10th St. and 54 St. Marks Place. 

In 1969, Agnello met Celia Arteaga, a beautiful and intelligent lady also of Italian descent, born in Ecuador, South America, by then, he lived at 286 Warren St. in Brooklyn NY.  Four years later, they got married in Florida where Agnello had a mural commission.  They stayed there for a very short period of time and then moved to California where Celia’s daughters lived. He continued his devotion to art and soon enough a reporter named Octavio R. Costa, from the Newspaper La Opinion of Los Angeles, requested from him an interview, which Agnello accepted.  According to the interview, the reporter was amazed when he entered Agnello’s Studio and saw all his wonderful paintings---marvelous masterpieces! This interview was published in the Section “Instantaneas” of La Opinion on  Tuesday 19 of August, 1975 and four years later, on November 6th,1979 (Tuesday also) Octavio Costa published another chronicle about Agnello.

After the Kennedy assassination tragedy of November 22, 1963 Agnello created a painting about the world mourning the passing of President John F. Kennedy in which he depicted worldwide suffering with a vision of Heaven waiting for the President.  He had made post cards of this painting and on the back wrote the following:  “OUR LATE PRESIDENT J.F.KENNEDY LOVED BY THE PEOPLE MORE DESERVING OF PARADISE THAN EARTH AND ST. PETER OPENED WIDE HIS DOORS TO WELCOME A SINCERE AND HONEST GENTLEMAN” .- The painting was displayed at the New England Pavillion of the New York World’s Fair of Flushing Meadows and later on, he donated it to the John F. Kennedy Library.

HHe also donated a painting he did for President Carter, as a tribute for that President’s efforts to help establish a lasting peace in the Middle East. Agnello received a letter from  Susan S. Clough who was the Personal Assistant/Secretary to the President, confirming they received the painting and expressing their appreciation for his thoughtfulness. Another painting that reflected Agnello’s soul was one he did of Martin Luther King Jr. in Heaven with John F. Kennedy to his right and Abraham Lincoln to his left welcoming him. He donated this painting to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change.

I Maritza Oleas wrote:  I cannot exactly tell the amount of Agnello’s paintings, but I know that he painted all his life, started to draw at seven and had done portraits since he was fourteen.  Painting was his passion, his way to expose to the world the way he saw it. He passed away on February 11th, 1982 at the age of 83, at the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital of Los Angeles, California. The personal data in the Death Certificate stated that he was a male Artist, his race was Caucasian but his Ethnicitity window read “Not Stated”….maybe because he was UNIVERSAL!!!

All the information collected in these pages is Mr. Jurado’s property and  I was authorized by him to use it in a way that we both could make Agnello’s dream possible. He wanted the world to enjoy his Art, we wanted to let the world know who he was, how magnificent he was expressing in those canvas, walls, etc. the beauty he saw in the world, in the people.-  When he was alive, he was hoping to meet an angel who would help him to bring his Art to the world, now he is the Angel we hope would help us to accomplish his dream.- R.I.P. John Agnello!

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