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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Where to Find Beauford's Art: Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries - Part 4

This final segment of the multi-part article on the Beauford Delaney paintings held by Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries comes from Patricia Sue Canterbury*, curator of the solo exposition entitled Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris that was mounted by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2004.


The group of works that resides in the collection of the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries (“CAUAG”) is bound together by the two salient factors of color and origin. All seven works, which range between 1962 and 1978, are suffused with yellow, a shade that dominated the artist’s work—particularly after his relocation to Paris in the 1950s. The sun-drenched shade was a flexible, expressive tool that conveyed the perceived essence of his subject matter. The other aspect that contributes special meaning to the works as a group is the fact that all are a bequest from Delaney’s long-time friend, James Baldwin. My thoughts on a few of my favorites follow below.

Baldwin and Delaney’s history spanned decades and, while it began with the artist in the role of mentor to the younger man, by the 1970s Baldwin would take on a protective role towards the man who had taught him in little but profound ways to look beyond the surface of initial impressions. It was also Delaney who was living proof to the young, aspiring writer that a black man could be, and succeed, as an artist. The friendship begun in New York continued across the Atlantic where both men found in Paris a place where each could explore their respective paths with a freedom that opened within them new approaches and ideas in the pursuit of their crafts.

Given their long history, Delaney portrayed Baldwin on many occasions and those likenesses rank as some of the artist’s most powerfully intuited portraits. Therefore, it is not surprising that out of the three portraits by Delaney in the CAUAG collection, it is his portrayal of James Baldwin that projects to us the interior essence of the sitter.

Portrait of James Baldwin
(1971) Oil on canvas
Bequest of James Baldwin
Image courtesy of Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries
Note: Some question whether the person depicted in this portrait is indeed Baldwin.

The yellow light of inspiration and spiritual power surrounds the author like an aura, but the face is suffused with the same light as if it is rising up from within and emanating towards the viewer. Baldwin and the light are one and the same. The clarity of vision and purity of his purpose are further conveyed to us through the bright white of his eyes and the jacket in which he is cloaked. His expression, looking straight ahead, is one of calm determination and his position in the dead center of the canvas, further marks the solidity of that resolve.

As Baldwin’s success as an author rose, he would in turn offer Delaney opportunities to vacation with him in various locations, including his timber and stone villa in St. Paul de Vence in the South of France. CAUAG is fortunate to possess two works that mark Delaney’s presence there. In Village (St. Paul de Vence) the artist captured the nature of a town that, to any visitor, is an unending succession of steeply pitched steps that hug the walls of any structure they desire to reach. Here, Delaney collapses a slice of the town into a single plane with multiple stepped paths and the cellular-shaped interiors of the establishments that border them. It is a portrait of a place well loved, which conveys a sense of his delight in its peculiar quality of place.

Village (St. Paul de Vence)
(1972) Oil on canvas
Bequest of James Baldwin
Image courtesy of Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries

The work also reaches back to works from New York (ca. 1946-1953) when the artist employed similar divisions or compartmentalizing in the portrayal of a place (i.e., Untitled (Jazz Club), ca. 1951, Private Collection). While each area of activity is distinct, in concert they convey a sense of simultaneity within the greater whole of the place portrayed.

Yellow Cyprus (1978), painted six years later, and one year before Delaney’s death, translates his experience of the scene that opened before him from the terrace of Baldwin’s house at St. Paul de Vence. In spite of his delicate mental state by this point in time, he obviously divined larger, cosmic meaning underlying the visual phenomena. To get at it, he restricted the color palette and stripped away the unessential elements that would only distract. The yellow orb of the sun does not simply bathe the landscape in golden light; it invades it and transforms it into an extension of itself and threatens to dematerialize it, outright.

Yellow Cyprus
(1978) Oil on canvas
Bequest of James Baldwin
Image courtesy of Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries

The scene embodies the spiritual crux of what Delaney had sought to capture in his grand cosmic abstractions of the 60s—“that which cannot be said or portrayed…that is deathless, eternal, and obscure.” [Letter to Henry Miller, 11/3/65] Indeed, nature here presented him with its own “canvas” of infinite and unfathomable light. It was left only for him to walk into it.

*To read the other contributions that Sue Canterbury has made to the Les Amis blog, click on the links below:
Anatomy of an Art Exposition - Part 1
Anatomy of an Art Exposition - Part 2
Why Are So Many of Beauford's Paintings in Museum Storage

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Beauford's Self-Portrait at Swann Galleries African-American Fine Art Auction

Once again, Beauford's work was represented at the Swann Galleries African-American Fine Art Auction. The most recent sale was held on February 14, 2013. This time, the painting auctioned was an exquisite self-portrait (Lot 73) that I had not seen before.

(1964) Oil on linen canvas
470x337 mm; 18 1/2x13 1/4 inches.
Signed, dated and inscribed "Paris" in oil, verso.

Image courtesy of Swann Galleries
This painting was last held by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which acquired it in 2011. It was previously owned by Louise Taylor, St. Michael, MD; Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York (1999); and John Axelrod, Boston (1999). It was exhibited in a show called Selections from the Collection of John P. Axelrod at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Philips Exeter Academy, Andover, MA, August 31 - October 31, 1999 and at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, 1999, with the labels on the frame back.

Swann Galleries describes the painting as follows:
This modern self-portrait is a striking example of an important body of work--Beauford Delaney made self-portraits throughout his career, from the 1930s through the 1970s. This work is done at the height of his Paris period, the same year as Delaney's solo exhibition at Galerie Lambert in Paris, where he showed both portraits and abstract canvases. There is another 1964 self-portrait, with a cigarette on a yellow background, in the collection of the Reinfrank family, and a very similar Self-Portrait, 1965, in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art and illustrated on the cover of David Leeming's biography, Amazing Grace: a Life of Beauford Delaney.
The estimated sale price for this piece was $20,000-$30,000. It sold for $30,000*.

*At auction, there are two prices--the hammer price, or the price at which the item sells during the auction, and the price with the buyer's premium. All auction houses have a buyer's premium that the buyer pays to the auction house on top of the hammer price. Swann's premium is 20%. The prices indicated in this article are hammer prices.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Beauford Returns to the Whitney Museum of American Art

Blues for Smoke is a major interdisciplinary exhibition exploring a wide range of contemporary art, music, literature, and film through the lens of the blues and “blues aesthetics.” Mounted by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), it is now being shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan.

The image below is a screenshot from the page on the Whitney Museum Web site that promotes the exposition.  The painting on the right was done by Beauford - it is called Portrait of a Young Musician and is on loan from the Studio Museum in Harlem.  It is not dated. (Click on the image for a larger view of the portrait.)

Screenshot from Whitney Museum Web site

Beauford experienced his first major break as an artist at the Whitney, where he exhibited twelve works (three oils and nine pastels) at a four-person show that ran from February 26 to March 8, 1930.  He won first prize for one of his pastels and honorable mention for the other works that he submitted for this show. 

There is no indication on their Web site as to why the Whitney chose Portrait of a Young Musician among dozens of others to represent this exhibit.  But I think you'll agree that the work is compelling.  During a Google search, I found a blog post by a young woman named Kiffe Coco that echoes this sentiment.  Coco says that as soon as she laid eyes on the painting, she was deeply intrigued.  She goes on to describe how the image evoked thoughts of Paris:
I was introduced to this piece on Tuesday at the Studio Museum of Harlem while working a workshop, and just looking at it, I thought of Paris and then somehow, James Baldwin's image popped into my head. His scarf, his crossed legs, his expression all led me to believe that this guy had been spending some time in the City of Light...
Blues for Smoke is being accompanied by a series of performances, events, screenings, and readings, all of which showcase the enduring legacy and innovative possibilities of the blues in contemporary music and live art. It will run until April 28, 2013.

Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street
New York, NY 10021
General Information: (212) 570-3600
Click here for information on hours and admission fees.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Where to Find Beauford's Art: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has recently acquired one of Beauford's most acclaimed portraits, that of Marian Anderson:

Marian Anderson
(1965) Oil on canvas
J. Harwood and Louise B. Cochrane Fund for American Art
Image source: VMFA Blog

The painting had been on loan to the museum for five months prior to the acquisition. As of December 2012, it is part of their permanent collection. It hangs in the American gallery across the room from Beauford's Greene Street, which the museum acquired in 2010. As part of the museum's inventory, these works now belong to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The following description comes from the VMFA blog:
In this “memory” portrait — painted in Paris but with an awareness of the Civil Rights struggles underway in America — Delaney expressed his ongoing admiration for Anderson’s sensitive brilliance as a performer and person. The visual harmony of the work epitomizes the artist’s exploration of painterly abstractions that featured the color yellow as a symbol of perfection and transcendence.
According to the blog Black Artist News, Marian Anderson is the museum’s first painted portrait of a celebrated historical black figure. Many thanks to milo, creator of Black Artist News, for informing Les Amis of the acquisition!