Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris on view from November 13, 2005 through January 29, 2006
During a career of more than 50 years, Beauford Delaney (1901-1979) created important works of great variety and originality, ranging from vibrant depictions of New York (1929-1953) to lyrical abstract compositions from his years in Paris (1953-1979), and experimental, perceptive portraits of celebrated writers, musicians, and actors, most notably James Baldwin and Henry Miller. Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris, on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from November 13, 2005 through January 29, 2006, presents around 60 paintings, prints, and watercolors borrowed from public and private collections in Europe and the United States, spanning the artist’s most innovative years and including several works from Delaney’s earliest years in Paris that have never been exhibited.
“This exhibition offers a truly revisionist account of this outstanding artist,” said Michael Taylor, The Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “We are delighted to show Delaney’s work in Philadelphia, where his pivotal 1947 exhibition at the Pyramid Club will be highlighted, along with his striking Portrait of James Baldwin, which the Museum acquired in 1998. The work of this extraordinary artist will also be placed within the context of the Museum’s outstanding collection of American Modernists, such as John Marin, Jacob Lawrence, and Sam Francis, all of whom Delaney knew and admired.”
Delaney’s commanding 1945 portrait of his friend, the novelist and civil rights activist James Baldwin (1924–1987), is a highlight of the exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the only venue where it will be shown. A series of Delaney’s other depictions of Baldwin complement this painting, demonstrating the artist’s evolving approach to portraiture. The two men met in 1940, when the sixteen-year-old Baldwin sought the advice of Delaney, who, as a successful African American artist, served as a role model for the young writer. The rich, vibrant color and strong contrast in Dark Rapture of 1941 convey the intensity and energy the artist perceived in Baldwin as a young man; in the compelling image of The Sage Black (1967) Delaney dissolves the boundaries between expressive portraiture and abstraction.
Another strong feature of this presentation is the partial recreation of the artist’s 1947 exhibition at the Pyramid Club, the prestigious African American club in Philadelphia. This exhibition was a pivotal event for Delaney’s career, when he met and inspired other African American artists such as Dox Thrash and Humbert Howard and no doubt inspired Raymond Steth and Claude Clark. Reunited for the first time, these paintings capture a landmark moment in the artist’s remarkable life.
The exhibition moves beyond a stylistic analysis of Delaney’s work to acquaint visitors with the artistic, societal, and personal contexts of New York and Paris that found expression in the artist’s paintings. In 1940 Delaney began painting abstracted and emblematic depictions of the streets, parks, and jazz clubs of Harlem and Greenwich Village. Fascinated by the urban landscape that surrounded him, he produced works that express not only the character of New York in an American Modernist vein, but also his personal vision of equality and mutual respect in the face of the racial and social intolerance he faced as a gay black artist. Paintings such as Greene Street (1940) and Washington Square (1952) convey the energy of the bustling city through the sheer force of color and dynamic composition. Delaney’s abstractions of 1953 to 1959 demonstrate his exploration of color and his dialogue with the late work of Claude Monet. In the 1960s the artist produced particularly inventive paintings combining abstraction and portraiture and also experimented with print media.
Delaney’s work will be shown in a deeply resonant context at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Visitors in Philadelphia will be able to study Delaney’s career in relation to the Museum’s collections, especially the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and many other European and American modernists whom Delaney admired. The Museum’s remarkable charcoal drawing of Delaney (c. 1940) by Georgia O’Keeffe will be on view in Gallery 119, as part of an installation devoted to pioneers of abstract painting and other artists who position Delaney’s work within a larger artistic context.
Born in 1901 in Knoxville, Tennessee, Delaney moved to Boston in the 1920s, then to New York City in 1929. After some time in Harlem, he settled in Greenwich Village. In 1953 Delaney relocated to Paris, joining a community of American artists and writers such as Baldwin, Henry Miller, and Sam Francis. Within months of his arrival he abandoned tightly constructed figurative compositions and embraced abstraction. The exhibition includes ten of the artist’s initial works in this style, including an untitled oil painting from 1954, the earliest known example of the artist’s non-objective work from this period.
During research for this exhibition, it was discovered that the work was painted on an unconventional surface—a raincoat—that an impoverished Delaney cut up for canvas. Delaney’s work between 1960 and 1968 is the focus of the final phase of the exhibition, an era which saw the mounting of two major one-man gallery shows in Paris. This final stage of his career includes subtle abstractions of color and light as well as some of the most innovative portraits of the artist’s career. After years of battling schizophrenia and alcoholism, Delaney died in a sanatorium in Paris in 1979.
A fully illustrated catalogue, distributed by the University of Washington Press, accompanies the exhibition. Contributors to the catalogue include nationally renowned cultural critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who shares recollections of personal encounters with Delaney in Paris and the south of France; Ann E. Gibson, professor of art history at the University of Delaware, who explores Delaney’s New York years; Patricia S. Canterbury, organizer of the exhibition and assistant curator of paintings at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, who writes on Delaney’s early transitional work in Paris; and Michael D. Plante, associate professor of art history at Tulane University, who discusses Delaney’s work in the context of the post-war school of Paris.
The exhibition was organized by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and made possible with support from the Henry Luce Foundation and The Judith Rothschild Foundation. In Philadelphia, the exhibition is supported in part by The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Robert Montgomery Scott Fund for Exhibitions. Promotional support is provided by The Philadelphia Tribune and WHAT-AM.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts (November 21, 2004-February 20, 2005)
Knoxville Museum of Art (April 7-June 26, 2005)
Greenville County Museum of Art (August 3-October 2, 2005)
Philadelphia Museum of Art (November 13, 2005-January 29, 2006)