I visited Beauford in Paris when I was stationed outside Karlsruhe in the US Army in the last days of the allied occupation. I was fortunate enough to obtain my discharge from the Army without having to go back to the States and instead went straight to Paris, taking an overnight train to see Beauford and William Gardner Smith, another good friend. I found a room in what was then called the Hotel des Ecoles on the rue Delambre, where Beauford was staying in a bedroom that was very light and bright on the top floor. The maids had given him old white sheets to improve the light. He slept and worked in this fairly spacious room, which I remember as overlooking rue Delambre. It was hard to see the street because of the guttering on that floor of the building.
The light in the room was reminiscent of that in Beauford’s Greene Street apartment in Greenwich Village, but the space was far more comfortable. I often visited him at Greene Street and two school friends of mine from Philadelphia actually stayed on the floor above for some months. Beauford’s studio there was damp and poorly heated by a pot-bellied stove, but quite light due to the old white sheets that he scattered over furniture and hung over the dark walls.
It was at the rue Delambre apartment where Beauford said he wanted to do my portrait one day in 1955. I did not have to go to classes at the Sorbonne (where I was trying to learn and perfect my French on the GI Bill) that day.
Beauford’s custom was to listen to music of all kinds – from jazz to Marian Anderson, the great black singer of the day – while working, and so it was that day. I was astounded at how swiftly his brushes moved across the small standard canvas that one found in local Montparnasse art shops. My portrait was completed in two hours. It was little more than a sketch perhaps, but I still treasure it as the best likeness of me as a young man.
Oil on canvas (1955)
To read Richard’s tribute to Beauford on the Les Amis blog, click here.
Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Richard Gibson
To read more about the 2005 exposition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, click on the following links: