I had never thought of having a portrait done of myself. But in September 1966, when I saw the portrait Beauford was working on at his easel (a portrait of James Speyer, Curator of Twentieth-Century Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, and brother of Darthea Speyer), I asked Beauford if he would paint one of me of the same size He said he would, but stipulated, “You’ll have to bring me the canvas.” (Beauford was using a “60 F,” or “60 Figure,” canvas for the Speyer painting. “60 F” was an indication of the size and shape of the canvas, which measures 130 x 97 cm, or roughly 51 x 38 inches).
The following Saturday when I came by Beauford’s studio, Speyer’s portrait was still on the easel, but the color of the background and that of Speyer’s sweater had been reversed. When I mentioned this, Beauford said that when Speyer saw what he had done, he asked Beauford to reverse the colors. Beauford obliged him. Speyer soon left France for Chicago with the finished portrait, which he hung in the entry of home there (see Art in America, July-August 1967, page 40.)
A winter morning some months later, I arrived at Beauford’s studio with a 60 Figure white canvas, which Beauford immediately put on his easel. He sat me in a chair, picked up a piece of charcoal, sat down behind the canvas, and started to draw and talk. I realized immediately that I should have had a tape recorder with me. He talked about everything: his ancestral mix, his family, life experiences—some pleasant, some the opposite—but all with his understanding of their deeper meaning.
After one and one-half hours, Beauford stopped and said, “Come and have a look.” The drawing was superb! I thought to myself, “This is so good that I want to keep it as a drawing.” I said this to Beauford, who nodded but seemed to want to start painting immediately. I had my camera with me, so I took several shots of the drawing before I left. When I returned a week later, the drawing had disappeared under paint. The only remembrance I have of it is a photograph that I took just after completion (see photo below).
Although Beauford saw me from time to time while he was working on the portrait, the only time I ever posed for it was during the sitting for the original charcoal drawing. I told Beauford at the start of the project that I was not looking for a likeness, but rather, a “great portrait.”
The finished painting first went on public view in a retrospective of Beauford’s work at the American Cultural Center in an evening dedicated to Beauford on March 21, 1969. It was next shown in the exhibition “Twin Cities Collects” from September 2000 to January 2001 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The portrait appeared again on exhibition as part of the Delaney retrospective, “Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris,” which began at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in November 2004, traveled to the Knoxville Museum of Art and the Greenville County Museum of Art in 2005, and ended at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in January 2006.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts Exhibit