The Bitter Cup by Letterio Calapai

The Bitter Cup by Letterio Calapai

The Bitter Cup

Letterio Calapai

Please call us at 707-546-7352 or email to purchase this item.

The Bitter Cup

mixed technique intaglio 
Image Size
35 5/8 x 23 1/2" platemark 
pencil signed, lower right 
Edition Size
T/P (trial proof outside proposed edition of 50) 
pencil titled and editioned 
Landfall Calapai retrospective #14 
heavy wove white BFK Rives 
Trial Proof 
Inventory ID

"The Bitter Cup" appears to be Calapai's largest intaglio, done in 1961 and is extremely rare. A large skeletal figure hovers over the much smaller figure of a man who appears about to be overwhelmed by a vortex or a mighty wave - death claiming another soul?? This impression is a trial proof; there is an earlier artist's proof with the lower right area depicting a couple, reaching out as an appeal (Syracuse 2023.245). The artist replaced the couple with the single figure.

This a biblical reference: drinking from the bitter cup means that you accept your fate, whatever it might be, death or unhappiness, something that can't be avoided. The term comes from Jesus Christ sharing cups of wine with his disciples, knowing that it was God's will that he would be killed.

In his introduction for Letterio Calapai: A 50 Year Retrospective (1934-1984), Alfred P. Maurice wrote: "Calapai went on to gain equal mastery of the intaglio processes of etching, dry point, aquatint and collagraphy and to invent variations which further extended the range of his printmaking techniques. He is a master printer as well as maker of prints....At the level of technique, Calapai is in the first rank of artists working in printmaking today. But, he does not use this expertise to dazzle us with rhetorical exercises. Instead, we find in all his prints thoughtful orchestrations of techniques to enhance the meaning and expressiveness of his imagery."

Letterio Calapai was born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 29, 1901. Following his graduation from the Massachusetts Normal Art School (now the Massachusetts College of Art) in 1925, he was awarded a two-year scholarship to the School of Fine Arts and Crafts in Boston where he worked under Charles Hopkinson and Howard Giles. In 1928, Calapai moved to New York to continue his studies, taking sculpture at the Beaux Art Institute of Design, figure drawing with Robert Laurent at the Art Students' League, and the techniques of fresco painting with Ben Shahn at the American Artists School. His first solo exhibition was at the Art Center in New York City in 1933.

As a muralist, Calapai painted a mural about 1937 for the WPA entitled "The Evolution of Communications in American Wars", which was painted for the 101st Battalion Signal Corps in Brooklyn, New York. He also created several murals for the 1939 New York World's Fair.

Calapai worked at Stanley William Hayter's Atelier 17 in New York between 1946 and 1949, eventually becoming one of Hayter's assistants. Following this, with Hayter's recommendation and at the behest of Philip Clarkson Elliott, he was hired to establish the printmaking department at the Albright Art School. He was chairman for six years, during which time the school transitioned to become the University of Buffalo. He returned to New York City in 1955, and in 1959 he received a Tiffany Foundation Grant, allowing him to establish the Intaglio Workshop for Advanced Printmaking in Greenwich Village. Calapai also taught at the New School for Social Research, New York University, and Brandeis University. He moved to Chicago in 1965 and, as visiting Associate Professor, taught at Kendall College, Evanston. The following year, Calapai was asked to teach the summer session of graphics at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Calapai illustrated a variety of literary works centering on sociopolitical and religious themes. Among them were Lorenz Graham's How God Fixed Jonah, 1946, with a foreword by W.E.B. DuBois; a portfolio of woodcuts based on Thomas Wolfe's novel Look Homeward Angel, 1948; and The Negro Bible Series, 1946, republished by Cornel West in 1992.

Letterio Calapai died in Glencoe, Illinois on his ninety-second birthday, March 29, 1993.


Please call us at 707-546-7352 or email to purchase this item.