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Friday, June 25, 2010

Beauford at the Art Institute of Chicago

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting “Beauford Delaney: From Paris to Beyond” at the G. R. N’Namdi Gallery. The talk was extremely well received, and I was proud to announce to the audience that Les Amis de Beauford Delaney has reached its fundraising goal.

I was also pleased to announce that, earlier in the day, I had had the opportunity to visit the Art Institute of Chicago to see the Beauford Delaney works that this museum owns. The trip was most educational and enjoyable!  The museum holds three paintings, two of which are not on public display.

I have already presented the 1944 self-portrait that hangs in Gallery 262 at the Art Institute of Chicago in previous blog postings (You've Got the Eye; Cid Corman's Poetic Tribute to Beauford). But a friend recently visited the gallery and took some extraordinary photos of the painting, and I would like to share them with you here. Note the very heavy streaks of paint that Beauford used to create this image of himself.


Photos of Beauford's 1944 Self-portrait
Photos courtesy of Tim Paulson

As vivid and compelling as these photos are, the painting itself is even more striking!

A second work (see image below) is in storage. I made an appointment with the American Art department to see it. Associate Curator Sarah Kelly took me into the basement of the museum and located the room in which the painting is stored. We looked at it for several minutes together. There is no signature or date on the front of the painting, but the date “1965” was indicated in pencil on the rear of the painting. Other information about the date and acquisition was presented on two labels affixed to the rear of the work. The work itself is a conglomerate of curves, swipes, and splotches of paint in varying shades of green, yellow, and melon. I thought that I saw two cowboys amidst the colorful swirls!

Untitled by Beauford Delaney
(1965) Oil on canvas
Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Sarah accompanied me to the Prints and Drawings Department, where I saw the third Delaney that is owned by the museum. Though it is a painting, the museum has classified it as a drawing because it is painted with a transparent medium (watercolor) and is on paper. The Prints and Drawings department is equipped to store and display such works, which require special preservation. Works held by this department are displayed for three months, and then placed back into storage to preserve them.

Photo of “Untitled” (1961) by Beauford Delaney
© Discover Paris!

Curator Mark Pascale talked with me at length about this painting, which is untitled. He said that the colors of the painting were greatly faded, and showed me how to recognize the fading of the “cream wove”paper that Beauford used for this work as well. Mark described watercolor as a “fugitive medium,” and said that it has “inherent vice.” I found this description (which indicates the fragile nature of watercolor) amusing, and Mark said that the first time he heard it, it amused him as well.

As well as watercolor, Beauford also used gouache for this painting. Gouache is a mixture of opaque white paint with watercolor. This mixture can be made transparent by adding water.

Beauford painted this work for his friends Miriam and Palmer Hayden. His inscription—Pour Mariam & Palmer with love Beauford—and the date—“ ’61”—are barely visible. The painting was acquired from the Haydens by artist and art historian Semella Lewis, who in turn presented it to an art dealer, who sold it to the museum.

I highly recommend a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago to see Beauford’s works. You may phone the Prints and Drawings Department for an appointment to see the watercolor and gouache painting. The American Art Department may also grant a request to see the oil painting that is in storage, but only if you visit alone.

1 comment:

elkornegay said...

It seems that Beauford was quite willing to experiment with different kinds of paint, painting surfaces, and their applications. I think the term "inherent vice" describes what I see as a kind of defiance. I get it now!I am going to view these pieces for myself!