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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Burt and Pat Reinfrank Remember Beauford

Burt Reinfrank was one of Beauford’s friends from the Paris years. Burt was a member of the panel of the trustees that was accorded responsibility for Beauford’s affairs when he was institutionalized at Sainte-Anne’s Hospital during the final years of his life. I was privileged to interview Burt and Pat recently, and thrilled to learn much about Beauford and his work that has never found its way into print. I share some of their anecdotes below.

Burt first met Beauford in 1962, when he worked for the OECD. As an avid art collector, he was constantly seeking out painters and their works. He learned of Beauford’s work through gallery owner Karl Flinker, who gave him the address to Beauford’s studio. Burt went to the studio at rue Vercingétorix, met Beauford, and would be forever changed by their ensuing friendship. Pat met Beauford several years later, not long before he was committed to Sainte-Anne’s, and was also profoundly affected by him. She regrets that at he spoke very little at that point in his life, but recalls his voice as being rich in tone and very cultivated, and his smile as being radiant and beatific.

Burt and Pat Reinfrank next to an original Beauford Delaney
© 2010 Discover Paris!

Because the building in which Beauford lived on rue Vercingétorix no longer exists, and because there are very few descriptions of the exterior of the building, I was pleased when Burt described how he approached Beauford’s studio – through a courtyard and up stairs to a landing with two doors. Beauford’s home was behind the door on the left. Everything inside was covered with white sheets, except the walls, which were covered with paintings. Most of these works were portraits, while the abstract paintings were stored away. Burt said that Beauford invited him to sit in the chair and offered him coffee or tea. That chair was the one where Beauford had subjects sit for portraits (and Burt would eventually pose for a portrait there). Burt said that the apartment windows looked out over a schoolyard, and that voices of young children would fill the apartment at recess times.

Burt is a collector of Beauford’s art, and he had several stories to tell about various pieces that he has obtained, or tried to obtain. One such story pertains to a painting that he saw at Beauford’s studio during a visit there. Burt and Beauford became friends because of Burt’s interest in abstract art. Yet during a visit to Beauford’s studio one day, he saw one of Beauford’s figurative paintings from the New York years. He was quite impressed with it, and over the course of a few days, made up his mind that he wanted to purchase it. When he returned to the studio the following week, he did not see the painting anywhere, and asked Beauford where it was. Beauford told him that he had painted over it, and that the new painting was an abstract work.

Another story relates to a painting that Beauford gave to one of his best friends in Paris, Charlie Boggs – an American painter from Kentucky, who lived very near Beauford with his wife Gita and son Gordon. Burt invited Beauford to celebrate Christmas with him, and offered to pick him up in Montparnasse and take him to the Reinfrank home in Boulogne. Beauford asked Burt to pick him up at the Boggses instead. When Burt entered the apartment, he saw an abstract Delaney painting hanging over the sofa. Charlie helped Beauford to reproduce it as a seriograph, and a few years later, Burt received one of these seriographs as a gift from Beauford. Burt immediately remembered that he had seen the original painting at the Boggses and asked Charlie what became of it. Charlie could not remember, and the whereabouts of the painting have never been discovered.

Some of the Reinfrank collection comes from the paintings that were owned by Ahmed Bioud (link to Rosenfeld Gallery portrait), who Burt considers to have been one of Beauford’s closest friends in Paris. (He does not count James Baldwin and Bernard Hassell as Beauford’s friends, but rather as his family.) Bioud was a professor who worked at the Bibliothèque Nationale, and who would become a great supporter of Beauford by collecting his works and looking after him during Beauford’s bouts of mental and physical illness. The Bioud family would often invite Beauford to stay at their country home and to travel with them. Burt believes that Beauford painted one of the gouache works that he owns today (shown below) at the Bioud summer home.

Untitled, Beauford Delaney
Gouache on paper (1969)
Courtesy of Burt and Pat Reinfrank
Photo © 2010 Discover Paris!

Another painting owned by the Reinfranks (shown below) was originally a gift from Beauford to Charlie Boggs. Boggs sold the painting to Ahmed Bioud for the sum of 3000 FF ($600 at the exchange rate of the day). When Bioud died, his collection was divided among his daughters. Burt and Pat purchased it from a member of the Bioud family.

Untitled, Undated, Signed Beauford Delaney
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of Burt and Pat Reinfrank
Photo © 2010 Discover Paris!

Burt had other stories about Beauford’s paintings, such as a work that Beauford created in the style of the slash series of Italian painter Lucio Fontana, and another called Soul Brother that hung in Haynes’ Restaurant in Paris’ 9th arrondissement, for which an illegal copy was placed on the market for a time. But more importantly, he had a lot to say about Beauford’s persona – that shimmering, transcendental quality that made Beauford irresistible to anyone who knew him. He said that whenever he talked with Beauford, he regretted not having a recorder with him because he feared that he would forget the ideas and the philosophy behind what Beauford said. He thought deeply before putting into words what he considers to be the essence of Beauford:

Burt believes that art is an expression of an “inner something” that is present in us all. He says that the question is, are we interested in connecting with that “something,” or are we content to let it lie dormant within us. He says that Beauford was connected with that “something,” which Beauford often spoke of as “the cosmos.” Further, he believes that Beauford had a grasp of the human condition that he (Burt) has never found in any other soul. Words such as “saintly” and “beatific” (used by Pat) only begin to describe Beauford; to think of him in any context other than that of the far-reaching historic, artistic, and civilizing aspects of our culture from ancient times to today is to miss the point.

To sum things up, Burt indicates that Beauford was “something else.”

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