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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas with Beauford

Amazing Grace - A Life of Beauford Delaney (by David Leeming, Oxford University Press, 1998) is the only biography of Beauford Delaney written to date.  Because Christmas is approaching, I consulted this volume in search of information about how Beauford celebrated the holidays in France.  I found several anecdotes, many of which are tinged with melancholy because of Beauford's worsening mental illness.  Below are two that bring to light Beauford's capacity to appreciate life under arduous conditions, and his ability to create art in the midst of them.

Beauford spent Christmas Eve of 1959 with James Baldwin and Beat poet Dixie Nimmo. Nimmo cooked an entire chicken on a single burner in his unheated apartment near the Seine (perhaps at “The Beat Hotel” on rue Git-le-Coeur), and all three men “drank quantities of red wine.” Leeming indicates that Beauford considered the meal the best that he had ever eaten and the evening as the happiest that he could remember.

In the days leading up to the Christmas of 1961, Beauford lived at the home of French art collector Solange du Closel and her husband. Du Closel had been a supporter of Beauford since 1958, when she visited his studio in Clamart and bought several of his paintings. With Beauford’s approval, she arranged for a psychiatrist to evaluate Beauford’s mental state, and followed the doctor’s recommendation to place Beauford at the Nogent-sur-Marne Maison de Santé for a rest cure during the Christmas holidays. Prior to his departure, she encouraged Beauford to paint Christmas scenes. Beauford obliged her, creating several works.

Nativity Scene
Beauford Delaney
Oil on canvas (1961)

He gave a painting to Madame du Closel, which featured a simple nativity scene on a bright yellow background that would become a hallmark of several of Beauford’s later works. Beauford would continue to give the du Closels paintings at Christmas time.

Les Amis de Beauford Delaney wishes you the best for the holiday season! 

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