In commemoration of the 32nd anniversary of Beauford's death, I am pleased to reopen the Les Amis de Beauford Delaney blog with a wonderful guest posting that has been contributed by Jason Stieber of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art. All images below have been provided by the Smithsonian.
When Beauford Delaney arrived in Paris in 1953, his circumstances were hardly more comfortable than when he left New York City. Accustomed as he was to living near the precipice of destitution, Delaney made the best of his situation. He immediately established himself within a large circle of expatriate artists and writers. Most notably, he reconnected with James Baldwin, whom he had met in New York City in the 1940s. Beauford’s kindness and affable nature inspired uncommon devotion in those closest to him.
One of his most ardent admirers was the American cultural ambassador and art dealer Darthea Speyer. Speyer exhibited Beauford’s work in her Paris gallery and, from the moment of their meeting until her death in 2010, employed her considerable executive skills to advance the cause of his life and work. The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art in Washington, DC recently acquired the records of the Galerie Darthea Speyer as a gift from the dealer’s estate. These records are a rich trove of information on the network of friends who supported Beauford and whose loyalty proved vital in the dark years near the end of his life. While there are no letters from the artist himself, the collection contains correspondence to Speyer from Romare Bearden, Herbert Gentry, Ahmed Bioud, James Jones, and Bernard Hassell.
Darthea Speyer letter to Romare Bearden, 1974
In 1973, Speyer mounted a solo exhibition of Beauford’s work. The collection contains numerous photographs from the opening of this exhibition as well as documents pertaining to its organization and the sale of artwork. Jazz musician and composer Ornette Coleman made an appearance on opening night, as did one of Beauford’s most generous benefactors, Mme. de Closel, who provided him with a free flat on rue Vercingetorix during the last decade of his life.
Ornette Coleman (far left) and Beauford (middle left) at the 1973 exposition
Beauford and Darthea Speyer (middle right) stand before Beauford's portrait of Speyer
Unfortunately, Beauford experienced a dramatic decline in his physical and mental health during the mid-1970s. Letters in the collection document the care his worried friends took with his various arrangements, hospitalizations, and disappearances. They also demonstrate their unflagging devotion to getting his work exhibited internationally. A series of letters between Speyer and Romare Bearden in 1974 trace the birth of an idea to mount a full retrospective of Beauford’s work at the Studio Museum in Harlem, an exhibition that was finally made manifest in 1978, a year before his death. Even after Beauford’s death, Speyer continued to campaign for her friend. Letters organizing and promoting the sale and exhibition of his work date all the way to the gallery’s close in 2009.
Letter from Romare Bearden to Darthea Speyer
The Galerie Darthea Speyer records are an invaluable primary resource for the study of Beauford’s life. The Archives of American Art is proud to have added these records to our research holdings so that generations of scholars may continue to encounter Beauford’s remarkable spirit. Other collections at the Archives of American Art relating to Beauford and his circle include:
Oral history interview with Darthea Speyer
The Joseph Delaney papers
The Romare Bearden papers
The Lawrence Calcagno papers
The Roko Gallery records
The Adelyn Breeskin papers
The Al Hirschfeld papers
Oral history interview with Herbert Gentry
The Adeline Herder papers
For more information on the above mentioned Smithsonian archives, contact:
Archives of American Art