Beauford Delaney 1901 —1979
"To James Baldwin he was 'a cross between Br'er Rabbit and Saint Francis of Assisi.' To Henry Miller he was 'the summum and optimum of all the solar energies and radiances combined.' To most scholars and followers of African American art, Beauford Delaney was one of the most gifted men ever to wield a brush."
Jabari Asim's Delaney's biography Washington Post, art reviewer
“Delaney's relationship with abstraction predated the notorious Abstract Expressionist movement, positioning him as a forerunner of one of the most important ideological and stylistic developments in twentieth-century American art. Although he chose not to identify himself with the movement, as the Abstract Expressionists began to gain notoriety in the late 1940s, Delaney's abstract work increasingly gained attention.”
Adrienne Childs, Professor of Art History, University of Maryland
In his Introduction to the Exhibition of Beauford Delaney opening December 4, 1964 at the Gallery Lambert, James Baldwin wrote, “the darkness of Beauford's beginnings, in Tennessee, many years ago, was a black-blue midnight indeed, opaque and full of sorrow. And I do not know, nor will any of us ever really know, what kind of strength it was that enabled him to make so dogged and splendid a journey."
Beauford Delaney was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and was encouraged by his first art teacher to move to Boston in 1923. While in Boston, Beauford Delaney studied art at the Massachusetts Normal School, the Copley Society and the South Boston School of Art and spent time admiring the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Hardly the center of the early 20th-century art world, Boston was nonetheless a fine place for Delaney to study painting and sketch the Old Masters' works in museums. African-American cultural life in Boston was then in the midst of a flowering that had later been overshadowed by the Harlem Renaissance.
In 1929, Delaney moved to New York City and studied for a brief time at the Arts Students League with John Sloan and Thomas Hart Benton. His paintings of the 1940s and early 1950s consist largely of portraits, modernist interiors and street scenes executed in impasto with broad areas of vibrant colors. Delaney’s interest in the arts also included poetry and jazz, and he formed close friendships with writers such as James Baldwin and Henry Miller, and other artists, including Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keefe, and Al Hirshfeld. Here he formed a life centered around questions concerning the aesthetics and development of modernism in Europe and the United States; primarily influenced by the ideas of his friends the photographer Alfred Stieglitz and the cubist artist Stuart Davis (painter), Georgia O’Keefe and the paintings of the European modernists and their predecessors like Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and Van Gogh.
While he worked to incorporate African-American influences during his earlier representational period, such as the "Negro" idiom of jazz, into his own artwork, he often preferred to visit one of the clubs when he was in Harlem rather than join in the serious socio-political discussions or “Negro art” questions that were taking place at the 306 Group or the Harlem Artists Guild. Though he resisted thinking of himself as a Negro artist, Beauford had tremendous pride in black achievement. He was also pleased to participate in a number of black artists exhibitions with fellow artists like Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, Selma Burke, Richmond Barthe, Norman Lewis and his brother Joseph Delaney.
Delaney moved to Paris in 1953. His years in Paris would lead to a dramatic stylistic shift from the figurative compositions of New York life to abstract expressionist studies of color and light.
For a time, expatriate Delaney was a minor celebrity in the expatriate community of postwar Paris, a friend of Colette and Henry Miller, of Jean Genet and James Jones. In those same years, between 1953 and the mid-1960's, he created a remarkable body of work using vibrant color to translate the unique light of Paris into the language of Abstract Expressionism. Exile offered Beauford Delaney the space to work through his sense of being different; it also gave him. a new sense of freedom from racial and sexual biases, Delaney focused on creating lyrical, colorful non-objective abstractions. These paintings, consisting of elaborate and fluid swirls of paint applied in luminous hues, are pure and simplified expressions of light.
Following his death, he was praised as a great and neglected painter but, with a few notable exceptions, the neglect continued.
A retrospective of his work at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a year before his death, did little to revive interest in his work. It was not until the 1988 exhibition Beauford Delaney: From Tennessee to Paris, curated by the French art dealer Philippe Briet, at the Philippe Briet Gallery, that Delaney's work was again exhibited in New York, followed by two retrospectives in the gallery: "Beauford Delaney: A Retrospective [50 Years of Light]" in 1991, and "Beauford Delaney: The New York Years [1929-1953]" in 1994.
Adrienne Childs, University of Maryland wrote, "Whatever Happened to Beauford Delaney?," an article by Eleanor Heartney appeared in Art in America in response to the 1994 exhibition asking why this once well regarded "artist's artist" was now virtually unknown to the American art public? “What happened? Is this another case of an over-inflated reputation returning to its true level? Or was Delaney undone by changing fashions which rendered his work unpalatable to succeeding generations? Why did Beauford Delaney so completely disappear from American art history?” The author believed that Delaney's disappearance from the consciousness of the New York art world was linked to “his move to Paris at a crucial moment in the consolidation of New York's position as the world's cultural capital and his work's irrelevance to the history of American art as it was being written by critics” at the time. The article concludes, “Today  as those histories unravel and are replaced by narratives with a more varied and colorful weave, artists like Delaney can be seen in a new light.”
Delaney’s works had been shown in many museum shows during his lifetime. In 1961 Delaney’s works were shown at Centre Culturel Americain, Paris, in 1963 the Musee d'Art Moderne, Paris in Salon des Realities Nouvelles, Paris, 1964 the Galerie Culturel Americain, Paris, 1967 Morgan State College Baltimore MD, 1970 University of Texas, 1971 The Newark Museum and in 1978, The Studio Museum in Harlem organized his first major retrospective exhibition. Tortured by alcoholism and schizophrenia, Delaney died in Paris while hospitalized for mental illness in 1979. .
In the end, Delaney could not balance his three lives: modernist painter, black man and homosexual. His closest friend, the author James Baldwin, told people that Delaney's struggle to live as a black man, a gay man, and an artist had simply proved too much. A recent exhibition of Beauford Delaney's work at the Sert Gallery of the Harvard University Art Museums, however, shows the painter successfully reconciling race, sexuality, and exile, and doing so with a passion for experimentation; a spectacularly successful passion.
During Delaney’s lifetime his works were show in a number of private galleries ome including the Vendome Gallery, Roko Gallery and Artists' Gallery, New York City, in the 1940s; Gallerie Paul Fachetti, 1960; 1962 Galerie Breteau, Paris and 1973 Gallery Darthea Speyer, Paris.
David Leeming, who knew Beauford Delaney, has written a recent biography of the artist entitle "Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney," Oxford University Press, 1998.
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View synoptic biography below.
Works by Delaney are in the following public collections, among others: Arizona African-American Museum, Phoenix AZ; Art Institute of Chicago; Baltimore Museum of Arts; Beck Cultural Exchange, Knoxville TN; Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick Maine; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh PA; Centre National d'Art Contemporain, Paris; Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta GA; C. Kermit Ewing Gallery, University of Tennessee, Knoxville , Tennessee ; Delaware Art Museum ; Detroit Art Institute ; Fisk University Galleries, Nashville TN; Greenville County Museum; High Museum of Art, Atlanta GA; Indiana University Art Museum; University of Iowa Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of the Arts; National Gallery of Art; Greenville County Museum of Art; Hampton University museum, Hampton VA; James E. Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University, Baltimore MD ; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Minneapolis Institute of Arts ; National Portrait Gallery ; Smithsonian Museum of American Art; National Centre for Art and Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris; Newark Museum of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Rose Art Museum; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture NY; Smithsonian Museum of American Art; Tampa Museum of Art; Tennessee State Museum,, Nashville TN; The Heckscher Museum of Art: The Walter O. Evans Collection of African-American Art ; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art ; Whitney Museum of American Art ; Worcester Art Museum; and University of Michigan Museum of Art.
Synoptic Biography - Beaufort Delaney (American 1901 - 1979)
Solo exhibitions [ edit ]
- Two thousand and five - 2006: Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris , Philadelphia Museum of Art , Philadelphia, PA.
- 2005: Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris , Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville , Tennessee.
- 2005: Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris , Greenville County Museum, Greenville, North Carolina.
- 2004: Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris , The Minneapolis Institute of Arts , Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- 2003: Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow , Fogg Art Museum , Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
- 2002: Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow , Anacostia Museum and Center for African History and Culture of Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
- 2002: Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow , The Studio Museum in Harlem , New York.
- 2002: Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow , High Museum of Art , Atlanta , GA.
- 1999: Beauford Delaney, Liquid Light: Paris Abstractions, 1954-1970 , Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, and Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, South Carolina.
- 1998: Beauford Delaney: An Introduction , Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, Tennessee.
- 1994: Beauford Delaney: The New York Years (1929-1953) , Philippe Briet Gallery , New York.
- 1992: 1991-1992: One of the rooms of my gallery IS Dedicated to the art of Beauford Delaney , Philippe Briet Gallery , New York [February 13-March 21] [5-26 June].
- 1992: Gallery Darthea Speyer, Paris .
- 1991: 1991-1992: One of the rooms of my gallery IS Dedicated to the art of Beauford Delaney , Philippe Briet Gallery , New York [October 10 October to 9 November].
- 1991: Beauford Delaney: A Retrospective [Fifty Years of Light] , Philippe Briet Gallery, New York.
- 1988: Beauford Delaney: From Tennessee to Paris , Philippe Briet Gallery, New York .
- 1979: Beauford Delaney: A Retrospective , The Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA.
- 1978: Beauford Delaney: A Retrospective , The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York.
- 1973: Beauford Delaney , Darthea Speyer Gallery, Paris.
- 1969: Evening dedicated to Beauford Delaney by his friends , organized by Helen Baltrusaitis American Cultural Center, Paris. Exhibition of works belonging to his friends, accompanied by a concert of Jazz with ( Marion Brown and Art Simmons ).
- 1964: Tables of Beauford Delaney , Galerie Lambert, Paris.
- 1960: Beauford Delaney-: Exposure of June 21, 1960 , Galerie Paul Facchetti, Paris.
- 1956: BEAUFORT-DELANEY: paintings and pastels ( sic ), Prism Gallery, Paris.
- 1955: Beauford Delaney Exposicion Galeria Clan, Madrid .
- 1950 , 52 , 53: Roko Gallery, New York.
- 1950: Oil Paintings and Pastels by Beauford Delaney , University of Maine Art Gallery, Carnegie Hall, University of Maine , Orono, ME.
- 1948: DELANEY: An Exhibition of Paintings by Beauford Delaney , the Artists Gallery, New York.
- 1947: Women's College of Greensboro, University of North Carolina , Greensboro , NC.
- 1947: Seventh Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture , The Pyramid Club, Philadelphia, PA.
- 1941: Art Café, New York.
- 1941: Vendome Art Galleries, New York.
- 1938: Playhouse Art Gallery, 8th Street, New York.
- 1938: C Gallery, Washington, DC
- 1932: The New York Public Library, 5th Avenue & 42nd Street, New York.
- 1930: Portrait Exhibit of Sketches by Beauford Delaney , The New York Public Library, 135th Street Branch, New York.
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