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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Where to Find Beauford's Art: Whitney Museum of American Art

The Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan holds five paintings by Beauford. I was able to obtain information and images for four of them.

Among these works is the self-portrait that graces the cover of the David A. Leeming biography Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney.

(1965) Oil on canvas

The museum supplied the following text about the painting:

Delaney painted Auto-portrait when in his mid-sixties, while living in a studio that his friends helped him acquire in Paris. It was one of the most fertile phases of his career, even though he was recovering from a nervous breakdown he has suffered in 1961. In his self-portrait, Delaney seems uncertain, anxious, troubled. A cigarette hangs from the corner of his mouth, as if forgotten. The hardships of his life can be traced in the craggy, heavy lines of his face. His eyes, bordered in thick, black paint, are just slightly out of alignment, giving him an unsettled, searching look.

Beauford undoubtedly painted this self-portrait in his studio on rue Vercingétorix.

Two of the Whitney’s paintings date from Beauford’s New York years:

(1948) Oil on canvas

(1950) Pastel on paper

Beauford's history with the Whitney began in New York in January 1930, a couple of months after he moved to New York from Boston. He approached a woman at the Whitney Studio Galleries (the forerunner of today’s museum) with his portfolio and was introduced to Mrs. Juliana Force, the director of purchasing and exhibitions, as a result. Mrs. Force immediately offered him a spot in a four-person show. Beauford displayed three oil portraits and nine pastels at this show. He won first prize for one of his portraits and honorable mention for the pastels that he submitted and received positive reviews from the press. Following the exhibition, the Whitney offered him a job as the studio’s caretaker and telephone operator, as well as studio and living space in the basement.

Paris Window (below) may well depict the rooftop across the street from the Hotel des Ecoles, where Beauford lived from 1953 until 1956. Regarding the location of the room, his friend Richard Gibson said, “If I remember rightly, the room was on the top floor and looked northwards over the rue Delambre. Actually, it was hard to see the street because of the guttering in the front of the floor. “

Paris Window
(1953) Pastel on paper

Beauford left this studio after an altercation with the owners of the hotel. Beauford had cooked a meal for several friends one night in December – James Baldwin, Bernard Hassell, Richard Olney, and Mary Painter – and they had a rousing good time fueled by the cognac that Baldwin brought along for the party. Baldwin did not leave Beauford’s room when the others did, and the hotel owners accused Beauford of having an overnight guest without paying for his stay. Beauford got angry and vowed to move. He vacated the premises for an apartment that Baldwin found for him in the nearby town of Clamart.

None of Beauford’s paintings are currently on display at the Whitney Museum. Scholars may view the works by appointment. To do so, contact Amy Weiss at amy_weiss[at]whitney[dot]org.

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