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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Beauford's Portraits of James Baldwin - Part 2

Last week, Dr. Catherine St. John commented on two of Beauford's portraits of James Baldwin. both of which are in private collections. Today, I present images of two Baldwin portraits that belong to major museums and one from a private collection that traveled the U.S. in a major exposition of Beauford's works, along with excerpts from descriptions that the museums present(ed) with these works. I invite you to compare and contrast these portraits, including the ones discussed last week, and submit a comment about which one(s) you appreciate most.


The portrait owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art is part of the museum's permanent collection, but it is not currently on view. The label for the painting reads:
This iconic painting is a very early depiction of the famous writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin, who was twenty-one when Delaney created this portrait. Closely cropped and vibrantly painted, it jumps out from the canvas, presenting an up-close encounter with the sitter. As in Delaney's self-portraits, he painted one eye slightly different from the other, a pictorial device also found in Pablo Picasso's paintings. Of the many portraits Delaney made of Baldwin, this one is among his most direct and expressive.

Portrait of James Baldwin
(1945) Oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art

The National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute owns the portrait shown below. Part of its description of the painting reads as follows:
Although Delaney loved Baldwin, his portrait is not about nostalgic affection. Heated and confrontational, its harsh colors roughly applied, the pastel hints at the inner anxieties that would ultimately land Delaney in a psychiatric hospital. His pastel glows with the vibrant, Van Gogh–inspired yellow the artist often used after he moved to Paris in the 1950s. One of perhaps a dozen portraits that Delaney made of Baldwin over thirty years, it is both a likeness based on memory and a study of light.

James Baldwin
(1963) Pastel on Paper
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute

The Sage Black was a key oeuvre shown at the exposition mounted by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2004-2005. The museum's description of this remarkable painting mentions Beauford's technique as well as comments on his choice of colors:
Delaney superimposed a calligraphic outline on an abstract composition of reds, greens, yellows, and blues. Filled with all the colors of a flame, this incendiary, combustible background peers through Baldwin's form, conveying the passion and fire that was such an integral part of the author who penned, just a few years before, the foreboding essay titled The Fire Next Time.

The Sage Black
(1967) Oil on canvas
Private collection
Image from Artsmia Web site

Of the portraits displayed last week and the ones shown above, I personally favor the 1963 portrait (shown above) because it makes Baldwin look youthful and accessible. Which do you prefer? Leave your comments in the space below!

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