Vincent Capraro was born in Italian Harlem in 1916 to immigrant parents and grew up in the farm-like Williamsbridge area of the Bronx. After finishing his education at City College, he enlisted in the Marines. He was a Captain when his enlistment ended just as the war was ending in 1945. Capraro returned to New York, where he spent three years studying with Hans Hoffman. He then decamped for Rome; while there, he exhibited at the 1952 Venice Biennale and at the Museum of Modern Art in Rome in 1953.
Capraro returned to New York in 1955. Though he rejected the non-objective art that was exploding around him, finding it unsuited to express his vision, his work soon caught the attention of American celebrity collectors, including actor Vincent Price, opera singer Robert Merrill, photographer Sam Shaw, TV producer Sandy Frank, and architect Edward Durell Stone, who commissioned a mural that adorned his famed Manhattan townhouse.
Capraro’s six years in Rome had an enormous influence on him, and the methods and language of the old masters would be seen in his work throughout his life. But he is nevertheless very much a modernist in many other ways, particularly in his use of color. As the art historian James Beck wrote, “His approach to pure pigment is so free that it becomes mystifying when seen close up; his handling of the oil medium—a craft in which he is so demanding that he grinds his own colors—is that of a virtuoso.”
But as much as Capraro was admired for his pure artistry—his use of color and form, his extraordinary draftsmanship, his evocation of early painters in his own fresh voice—he is probably best remembered for his thoughtful and empathetic expressions of human suffering. His profound Holocaust Drawings and his monumental The Jews of Vught were both exhibited in 1992 at the Knesset and Yad Vashem. Vught is now at the Krakow Holocaust Museum. Another exhibition of Capraro’s drawings and his apocalyptic oils was held at the Yeshiva University Museum in 2005.