Artist Walter Condit paints a real house of ruins
It’s the house right up the street, I heard one auction-goer say. And then another, and another. They were looking at an old abandoned house in a watercolor painting that I had just bought at auction.
The house was a pleasant mix of blues and yellows and greens and browns, but the boarded-up windows and door gave notice that no one lived there anymore and hadn’t done so for a very long time.
I first saw the painting leaning against a wall outside the garage of the home where the auction was being held. It reminded me of a house in a gloomy painting that I had picked up a few years ago – the same proud stature in defiance of a less-than-stellar appearance. That house, though, was not abandoned, but its gray and black tones gave off the feeling of something that no one wanted.
I immediately picked up the painting at this auction and looked for the artist’s name – as I normally do. It was the work of a Philadelphia artist whom I recognized – Walter Condit. I’d tried to buy several of his paintings before at this auction house’s more-upscale sales but had always been out-bidded.
The first time, his painting went for more than I could afford, purchased by a top school-district administrator with an open purse. The auctioneer had announced that Condit was an art teacher in the local school district (but I was unable to verify that).
This painting appeared to be larger than the ones I remembered at auction before, and it had some light brown spots on the paper (called foxing). That didn’t matter because I knew I’d buy the watercolor and find the old house that it was based on.
On the back of the painting, I found an inscription, presumably written by the artist, that included the title: “Shawmont Ruin.” Shawmont was the name of the street where the house was located. Missing, however, was the year it was painted, which had to be before April 1991 because that was the year that Condit died.
Walter Dodd Condit was born in Passaic County, NJ, in 1918 and lived in Philadelphia for many years. He created oils, watercolors and woodcuts of what he saw in both his neighborhood in the city and in Maine where he’d go during the summer. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), and received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s from the Barnes Foundation.
In 1940, he was able to travel abroad after receiving the William Emlen Cresson Memorial Travel Scholarship from PAFA. He was apparently a member of the Pennsylvania Water Color Club, because he was said to have won its Water Color Prize at the 62nd annual member exhibition (the club was formed in 1900).
Condit exhibited at one-man shows in galleries and museums, mostly in the Philadelphia area. He also gave art-history slide lectures at local art centers. In 1980, he painted a watercolor of the exterior of the venerable Union League building in Philadelphia.
His woodcut “Head of Christ,” date unknown, was among an exhibit by the Woodmere Art Museum of biblical works from its collection during Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in 2005.
Condit was on the faculty of the Woodmere Art Museum and the Hussian School of Art, both in Philadelphia. He also taught at several art centers, including the Greater Norristown Art League, Conshohocken Art League and Manayunk Art Center.
At the auction, I was the only bidder for the Condit watercolor, and I also got a look at the house. On the front, an orange “No Trespassing” sign on the door from the Department of Licenses and Inspections warned that it had been cleaned out and sealed, and that violators would be fined and imprisoned.