Saturday, January 31, 2015

Beauford and Roland Hayes

Beauford was a huge admirer of Roland Hayes, a singer and composer born in Georgia and raised by sharecropper parents on the plantation where his mother had been a slave. He became an internationally known performer who sang in French, German, and Italian as well as English.

Portrait of Roland Hayes
Robert S. Pious (Robert Savon)

According to the Beauford Delaney biography, Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, Hayes was a friend of Charles Cansler, who was principal of Knoxville Colored High School and a mentor of Beauford. Beauford learned of Hayes' musical prowess in Knoxville and always admired him. He particularly loved Hayes's renditions of spirituals and black folk music. He would meet Hayes during his Boston years, when he introduced himself to the singer after a concert where Hayes performed with the Boston Symphony.

Click on the video below to hear Hayes sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Beauford's Favorite Writers

According to the Beauford Delaney biography, Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, Beauford read avidly and wished he could be a writer. Here are images of some of his favorite writers.

Richard Wright
1939 Carl Van Vechten

Henry Miller
1940 Carl Van Vechten

Zora Neale Hurston
Source: Wikimedia Commons

André Gide
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Langston Hughes
1936 Carl Van Vechten

Marcel Proust
Source: Wikimedia Commons

James Baldwin
1955 Carl Van Vechten

Henry Miller's work was perhaps the most meaningful to Beauford because of the troubled relationship that Beauford had with his own sexuality. Biographer David A. Leeming states that Miller "opened up the possibility that sexuality could be liberating and 'good'..." He quotes a letter that Beauford sent to Miller regarding the effect that Miller's writing had on him:

I am sure you understand me when I say that my way is clearer [now] - vision more serene.

Miller did much to support Beauford, personally and professionally, and the two men became friends for life.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jazz Concert in the Old New York Synagogue

Beauford loved jazz! He considered it to be "warm, vibrant, and conducive to dreaming and romantic musing."*

During his "New York years" (1929-1953), he painted two works depicting jazz musicians performing in a synagogue.

Jazz Quartet
(1946) Oil on canvas
Image courtesy of Burt and Patricia Reinfrank
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Jazz concert in the old synagogue, Lower East Side, New York
(ca. 1946) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

I was curious about the setting for these two paintings and decided to do a little research. I learned that there is a black Jewish population in New York City and that the first African-American synagogue in the city was founded in 1919. I also learned that jazz pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith was Jewish and worked as a Hebrew cantor for a black Jewish congregation in Harlem. However, I was unable to find information about the location of the synagogue in the paintings.

Jazz Quartet hung in the Artsmia exposition Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris, which originated at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (November 21, 2004 – February 20, 2005) and was subsequently presented by the Knoxville Museum of Art (April 8 – June 25, 2005), the Greenville County Museum of Art (August 3 – October 2, 2005), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (November 12, 2005 – January 28, 2006).

As a tribute to Beauford's love of jazz, the Philadelphia Museum of Art organized a special event starring Philadelphia jazz pianist Orrin Evans and including a screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary film A Great Day in Harlem.

*Quote from Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Beauford in Istanbul

Beauford visited James Baldwin in Istanbul in July-August 1966 and June 1969. He painted the work shown below in 1966

Untitled (Istanbul, Turkey)
(1966) Oil on thick, cream wove paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

and gave it to his friend, Mary Painter (her Paris address is inscribed on the back).

Beauford's biographer, David Leeming, describes this first visit to Istanbul in Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney. He quotes from a letter that Beauford wrote to Henry Miller in July 1966:

Being in Turkey is more exciting to me than being in Venice . . . there are ancient essences . . . the weather and the light are beyond my power to resist.

Leeming served as Baldwin's secretary and lived with Beauford and Baldwin in Istanbul at that time. He writes that Beauford

painted portraits of us all, did watercolors of the hills of Asia across the straits, bestowed a much needed aura of peace on the usually tumultuous Baldwin scene, and became an object of veneration among our Turkish friends, who would come to him each afternoon as to a wise guru.

Sedat Pakay, Turkish photographer and filmmaker, was one of those friends. Read about Pakay's memories of Beauford here:

Sedat Pakay's Tribute to Beauford