Les Amis de Beauford Delaney is partnering with the Wells International Foundation (WIF) to take the Beauford Delaney: Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition to the U.S.!

We value your support!

(All or part of your gift through WIF may qualify as a charitable deductible in the U.S.)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Figurative Works at Swann Auction Galleries' October 2017 Sale

Eight Beauford Delaney works are available for purchase during Swann Auction Galleries' Autumn 2017 sale of African-American Fine Art: three portraits, one landscape, and four abstracts.

The figurative works are presented below:

Greenhouse at Yaddo (Lot 25) is a rare work on paper from Beauford's New York years in that it is a pastel that is not a portrait. Beauford gave to his friend, poet May Swenson.

Greenhouse at Yaddo
(1950) Color pastels on wove paper
457x610 mm; 18x24 inches.
Signed, dated and inscribed "Yaddo" in pastel, lower right.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Beauford met Swenson during a two-month fellowship at Yaddo in September 1950. Biographer David A. Leeming describes his work from that period as "... paintings that, although still containing figurative elements, were much more abstract than anything he had done before."

Greenhouse at Yaddo is part of a private collection. Its estimated value is $15,000 - $25,000.

Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man) (Lot 16) and Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man in Suit and Tie) (Lot 17) are part of a private collection. Both were obtained from Beauford's brother, Joseph.

Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man)
(circa 1937-40) Color pastels on pale green, textured wove paper
625x480 mm; 24 1/2x18 7/8 inches.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man in Suit and Tie)
(circa 1940) Color pastels on pale gray wove paper
600x468 mm; 23 1/2x18 3/8 inches.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

These portraits are similar to works that Beauford created throughout the 1930s, beginning with his pastel and charcoal portraits of dancers at Billy Pierce's Dancing Studio on West 46th Street. The publicity that he received for these works led him to approach the Whitney Studio Galleries about showing them - which they did.

The estimated value of each portrait is $7,000 - $10,000.

The final figurative work is yet another portrait.

Portrait of a Bearded Young Man Reading
(1971-72) Oil on linen canvas
647x546 mm; 25 1/2x21 1/4 inches.
Signed and dated "1972" in pencil, lower left.
Signed and dated "1971" in pencil, lower right.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Portrait of a Bearded Young Man Reading (Lot 75) dates from Beauford's Paris years. It is part of a private collection and bears two signatures and dates. The owner obtained this work from Beauford's niece, Ogust Delaney Stewart.

Beauford visited James Baldwin in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a hilltop town in southern France with a view of the Mediterranean Sea, in 1971 and 1972. Perhaps the blues and greens in the background of this painting represent that view.

The estimated value of Portrait of a Bearded Young Man Reading is $7,000 - $10,000.

To see images of the other Beauford Delaney paintings being offered at this sale, click HERE.

The auction will take place at 2:30 PM on Thursday, October 5, 2017. Preview dates are as follows: September 30 from 12-5 PM; October 2 to 4, 10 AM to 6 PM; October 5, 10 AM - noon.

For more information, contact Nigel Freeman at

Next week: the abstracts...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Beauford at the Tate Modern

One of Beauford's many portraits of James Baldwin is on display at the Tate Modern. It is part of the exhibition entitled Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.

Portrait of James Baldwin
(1971) Oil on canvas
Bequest of James Baldwin
Image courtesy of Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

The Tate Modern is promoting the exhibition as follows:

Soul of a Nation shines a bright light on the vital contribution of Black artists to a dramatic period in American art and history.

Beauford's portrait hangs in Section 9, which is entitled "Black Heroes." It is on loan from Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries.

The information card for the portrait is shown below.

Image courtesy of M. Herron

I wrote about this portrait in 2013 in the last of four segments of an article on the Beauford Delaney collection at Clark Atlanta University. 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, comments on the painting in that article.

Note: The information card and the 2013 Les Amis article both indicate that there is some doubt as to whether this portrait represents Baldwin.

Soul of a Nation is on display through October 22, 2017. For more information, visit the Tate Modern's Web site.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Greece, 1967: Into the Blue

by Hanna Gressler

(1967) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Beauford believed that abstraction was the purest form of art. His philosophy is evident in his painting, Greece (Grèce in French), where shape, form, and color become intertwined to create a new world and a new sense of being. The first time I encountered this painting, my mind was immediately engulfed by the intense blue and sporadic color of white that carried me into a new experience of nature.

Eventually, I learned about Beauford’s suicide attempt on a boat to Greece in 1961, which led him to be institutionalized for the first time. Although the painting, Greece, was created six years after the incident, Beauford was troubled by mental illness all his life and the painting may speak of a continuing desire to achieve a sense of unity in oneself and with the world.

The blue of the ocean is all-encompassing. By looking at this painting, you dive into the deep blue and the shifting waves that take you someplace new. The more your eyes drift upward, the lighter the blue becomes as white patches of color become more frequent, and it seems as if the ocean has gradually turned into the sky. Between these blue and white swirls of color lies a horizon filled with more blue – a new world where nature and its colors are intertwined with one another, almost indistinguishable.

And as you stare more closely into this horizon, you become immersed into its everlasting world, where all nature is one and you are one with nature. In this world, the soul transcends the body through this experience of the intense blue of the ocean and the sky, their bodies interlaced, shifting into one another, becoming united.

However, the dark blue of the ocean and its oscillating waves also contain a certain chaos and danger. This new world we are entering is unfamiliar territory. By becoming one with nature, we are unraveling the folds of our body and mind, revealing the darkness within ourselves. Looking into the painting, we are confronted by our deepest desires and fears. If we allow ourselves to be drowned by the heavy blue and chaotic waves, there is no certainty that we will come back. Suddenly, the horizon between the ocean and the sky becomes a bottomless hole that pulls us inward. There is a darkness that lies beyond this world, which we may not be strong enough to confront.

Now, the image of becoming united with nature suggests the necessity for death. The indistinguishable shapes and forms of the painting portray a spectacle of nature, where every body is part of another and another, and together they create one mesmerizing and engulfing world of chaotic nature. It is only through death may return to this nature and nourish the next generation of life.

Whether Beauford jumped into the ocean in order to escape life and become united with nature will never be known. But Greece expresses a yearning for unity – with oneself, with those around us, with nature – despite the darkness that it involves, because it may be only through this way that we achieve peace.

Hanna Gressler is a senior at the American University of Paris. She served as a 2017 summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

What Hides Behind the Unusual Door: Metaphor or Song?

Lord, I was to hear Beauford sing, later, and for many years,
open the unusual door. My running buddy had sent me
to the right one, and not a moment too soon.”

- The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction,
James Baldwin, 1948-1985

Dark Rapture (a portrait of James Baldwin)
(1941) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

In his collection of nonfiction stories spanning over 40 years, the writer James Baldwin recalls his close friend and mentor, Beauford Delaney, singing the phrase, “Lord, open the unusual door.” Today, there exists the question of whether Beauford was singing a verse of a song or whether the phrase is a metaphor that holds a certain truth to the artist. Since Baldwin recalls hearing Beauford sing the phrase “for many years,” it can be understood that the phrase was particular to Beauford and perhaps reflected an artistic philosophy. In my research to answer this question of song or metaphor, I stumbled upon articles highlighting the friendship between Baldwin and Beauford, who found artistic inspiration in each other. However, the origin of the phrase remains unknown, given the source of “old song.” This type of source allows for many interpretations: the phrase could have come from a song Beauford’s mother used to sing to him, or maybe from a prayer he learnt, or it could be a vision he was trying to express.

My research brought me to analyses of Beauford’s perception of the world and the important influence this perception had on Baldwin’s writing and his own view of reality. The image of opening an unusual door implies entering into an unfamiliar environment, one that leads to a new confrontation with reality. This idea is reflected in Beauford’s art and his belief that abstraction is the purest form of art. The artist looked beyond the world in front of us and found the light within the mundane. This required him to see with a different eye, to enter a new dimension.

In an interview for a Spanish literary journal in 1987, Baldwin recounted the start of his artistic life, which was shaped by Beauford’s perception of reality: “We were stopped at a street corner waiting for the traffic light to change, and Beauford pointed down and said, ‘Look.’ I looked and all I saw was water. But he insisted: ‘Look again.’ Which I did, and I saw oil in the water and the city reflected in the puddle. For me this was a revelation. Which cannot be explained. He taught me to see, and to trust what I saw. Often it is painters who show writers how to see. And once you’ve had this experience, you see in a different mode.”* This reality of seeing allowed the artists to discover that light is contained in every surface and being. By passing through the “unusual door,” we become one with ourselves and the world around us. However, this new reality is not yet entirely known to us, and we may find in it something we did not want to discover.

In his article, “Open the Unusual Door: Visions from the Dark Window in Yuref Komunyakaa’s Early Poems,” Ed Pavlić compares the poet Komunyakaa’s image of the dark window with Beauford’s image of the unusual door, both of which must open in order to reveal a hidden truth about ourselves and the world we inhabit. In the author’s interpretation of the phrase, “Lord, open the unusual door,” Beauford describes a type of distance from reality that leads to a new form of presence. This unfamiliarity gives rise to a newfound intimacy with not only oneself, but the world around one as well. This sense of unfamiliarity is integral in the process of artistic expression because it forces one to step back from the world and find a new light where there once was only the darkness of the unknown. In this way, the artist not only pushes the boundaries of his mind, but of the world as well, creating new realities into which the artist may escape and find freedom.

Furthermore, Pavlić links the phrase to a modernist sense of creativity in which the artist has a transfiguring presence. This modernist sense of creativity involves an exploration of psychic interiors that resists conventional reasoning and enters into a modern dissociation of sensibility. As a result, they transform into versions of a kind of non-identical identity. “Lord, open the unusual door” calls for the discovery of the images that lie on the other side of the door, which will reveal the unconscious - images in the psyche that may reflect the artistic process of Beauford’s abstract paintings. However, according to the Pavlić’s analysis, opening the unusual door reveals a self that is not itself: “As it was for Baldwin, the creative process is centered in a world of transmuted, transmuting, presence which disrupts prepackaged meaning received through ideology, power, or simply laziness and the seductive inertia of habit. In Komynyakaa’s thought, this kind of presence is rooted in contradiction” – specifically in relation to racial identity, and other senses of self.

The image of the unusual door opening to another dimension where the psyche can move freely and transform, suggests that this door leads to lost or remote, but powerful, dimensions of the self that can come alive through art. In his paintings, it is clear that Beauford viewed the world with a different eye, one where the light in every body unites you with the world. Art allowed him to open that unusual door into this new dimension, but what lies there is unknown and unfamiliar, and there may be no way back.

*Elgrably, Jordan. “A traves del fuego: entrevista con James Baldwin.” Quimera: Revista de literature 41. (September 1984): 22.

Hanna Gressler is a rising senior at the American University of Paris. She is serving as a 2017 summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sunlight Drifters

By Hanna Gressler

(1966) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

My inspiration for this prose poem comes from the shapes created by the bright yellow and deep red colors in Beauford’s painting, Untitled, that seem to be telling a story. When I look at this painting, the bright colors radiate like the sun, and I am overcome by a sense of humility as I am reminded of the beauty of nature. In my prose poem, I wanted to evoke this sense of beauty and humility by describing one of the stories I find in the painting.

The sun rose as the peasants gathered. Above scattered fields, a wind blew, whistling under the wakening sky. Sunflowers flowed in the wind, brushing against each other’s petals as if swaying to a song underneath the sun. The peasant women trotted along unpaved roads with only the footsteps of previous mornings to guide them. Here, in the downtrodden streets of an impoverished French countryside, they gathered, religiously, with bare heels poking out of torn shoes, early morning on their backs and babies underneath their breasts, hovering together as if to protect one another.

Their heavy steps pressed into the mud, on and on, toward the rich yellow of the sunlight awakening above them. Gradually, limb by limb, the women could feel the sun’s warmth fill their bodies, reminding them of another life. With mouths shut tight, for it was too early in the morning to speak yet, only creases along their faces spoke of distant memories, when struggle was not a part of survival. And if both their hands were not safely holding the bums of their children, naked underneath the cloth that held them close to their mothers’ wombs as if to help them retreat back inside, then the rugged skin of the other hand, beaten and clumsily stretched onto their bodies, swung along beside them, free, the only limb not yet put to use for the day’s work. They leaned into this arm with the weight of two bodies, depending on it to hold them together, like the last surviving branch of a tree in winter that must succumb back to earth.

Like this the women walked, moving further and further toward the edge of the countryside, forming a horizon of their own where the earth will not end, but continue on for centuries, like the rise and fall of the sun, like the mothers, like these mornings. And beyond the women and the flowers, laid thick layers of hills overlapped into more distant spectacles. They glistened with such a tender texture against the dewy sky that if one were to point his finger toward the green grass wrapped around the hills, he would feel the bodies of nature rise like strokes of thick paint on a canvas, prickling the bottom of his finger, touching him with their own reality; and for a moment, intertwined with nature, he would become one with the hills, the sunflowers, the women, everlasting.

Hanna Gressler is a rising senior at the American University of Paris. She is serving as a 2017 summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Beauford's Reflections on Leaving New York

In August 1953, Beauford left New York City for what he planned as an extended visit to Europe. A week prior to his departure, he wrote the following in his journal as he pondered his upcoming voyage:

reflecting on many things—feelings of nostalgia and apprehension, of love and sorrow, of joy and regret, of things known and unknown, of a rededication of faith hope and love, of willingness to accept the challenge and do the best I can with it*

He never returned to New York.

Today I present several images of works from Beauford's New York years that, in my view, reflect some of the emotions expressed in this poignant passage.

Can Fire in the Park
(1946) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Earth Mother
(1950) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Dark Rapture
(1941) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Portrait of Delia Delaney
(1933) Pastel on paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Burning Bush
(1941) Oil on paperboard
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

*Passage quoted from Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, by David A. Leeming.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Untitled, 1959: Finding the Light

By Hanna Gressler

If you compare a painting by Beauford from the 1920s with a painting by him from the 1950s and onward, there is a chance you may think the paintings come from two different artists. The older he became, and the more art he produced, the more Beauford moved toward abstraction.

In the 1930s, Beauford found himself heavily influenced by the French artist Henri Matisse, whose use of saturated colors and distorted spaces inspired Beauford’s own artwork. Paris was the perfect city to allow Beauford to indulge his passion in modern art as he frequented galleries and studios in La Rive Gauche and looked at Greco-Roman sculpture at the Musée du Louvre. In this culturally artistic environment, Beauford’s painting style matured and flourished as he developed a new sense of color and space.

We can see this flourish of color and space in Untitled, from 1959. Dark shades of green, blue, and purple outline this painting. The colors then become lighter as they move across the canvas - a clear white and bright yellow - creating an inward movement toward the center of the painting.

(1959) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

As a viewer, your gaze is immediately drawn to this center of white and yellow, whose light seems to be swallowing the darkness of the colors around the painting, suggesting the image of a black hole. But instead of a black hole infused with darkness, this hole is infused with light, and we must enter into it in order to discover what we become on the other side.

This inward movement of the bright colors also suggests a sense of home, the image of a womb in which the light of life exists. The viewer feels a desire to return to this home, where she can be lulled by the painting’s “gentle blue and darling yellow.”

The brush strokes of the painting, Untitled, are also particular in their loose and musical style. Instead of serving to fill up bodies of space with the color, the brush strokes form spiral-like bodies of their own. Across the canvas, the white colored strokes develop a lyrical aspect as they form shapes akin to letters, as if they are trying to speak to the viewer.

These white bodies of color hold a mystery the viewer must solve in order to see past them and become engulfed by the bright yellow in the background. The sun-pierced yellow holds a spiritual power as it evokes the spirit Helios, providing a sense of holiness. In fact, each color contains a symbolic meaning.

It is Beauford’s combination of colors in this painting that creates a personal narrative and informs the imagination of the viewer. The inward movement created by the bright white and yellow colors pull the viewer toward a place she can call home, a place of light and rebirth, resulting in a sense of regeneration and redemption.

Throughout his entire life, Beauford was forced to face racism and homophobia, two potent forms of social rejection. In his more abstract paintings, Beauford paints his escape from this rejection, flying toward colors of light with the same movement as his brush strokes. The energy in his paintings comes from the visible and invisible interactions that happen between the many shapes and colors. These interactions evoke a universal spirituality that allows the viewer to look inside herself and discover that she is her own source of light and power.

Hanna Gressler is a rising senior at the American University of Paris. She is serving as a 2017 summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

Saturday, August 5, 2017


By Hanna Gressler

My inspiration for this poem comes from the painting Nativité (Nativity Scene) by Beauford Delaney and the bright yellow color that illuminates not only the painting, but also the scene that is taking place. Through my poem, I wanted to explore the transfer between the darkness of the womb and the all-encompassing light of life that is portrayed in this painting.

Nativity Scene
(1961) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

The night you were born, there was a light
that shined so bright, it blinded
the stars.

Released from the pressure around your body,
you moved toward its brightness,
only capable of finding it
through the dark.

Suddenly, the universe
revealed itself –
a vision of those you love –
and your arms and legs began to move
in their newfound freedom.

Goats danced in the soft green grass.
Wind chimes sang distant melodies.
I held you beneath the stars where,
in this moment of eternity,
we bathed in the transcendent light of life.

Hanna Gressler is a rising senior at the American University of Paris. She is serving as a 2017 summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Beauford-inspired Mural in Knoxville

I recently published two posts about elementary school kids in Knoxville being inspired by Beauford’s life and art and creating self-portraits and abstract works that were displayed at the Knoxville Museum of Art.

I have now become aware of another Beauford-inspired work of art created by Knoxville students that is on permanent display. It is a mural on an external wall at Beaumont Academy, a Fine Arts, Museum, and Honors magnet school located north and west of downtown Knoxville, and it was painted by students from Knoxville’s Austin-East Magnet High School for Performing Arts.

Mural at Beaumont Academy
Screenshot from WBIR.com video

Learn the story behind the mural by watching the video below.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

I Can't Go Home...

Beauford on the deck of the SS Liberté*

I can't go home because I never really left ... I sailed to France sixteen years ago, but I've never left America. The body goes somewhere, that's all ...

The above quote was Beauford's response to a reporter who asked him in 1969 if, as a Negro, he felt he should go home to America where the action is.

In fact, part of Beauford's heart, mind, and soul always remained in his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. From the moment he left Knoxville to move to Boston in 1923 until his commitment to Sainte-Anne's Hospital in Paris in 1975, Beauford consistently, if not frequently, reached back to Knoxville for emotional and spiritual sustenance.

Delaney Family Home at 815 East Vine Street, Knoxville*
Image from KnoxNews.com Archive

Beauford and his brother Joseph returned to Knoxville in 1933. Both were living in New York City at the time. They were much admired and their accomplishments were touted by those in their community.

In 1938, he wrote "disjointed letters" to his mother Delia during a time of financial crisis and she reacted by writing to Joseph to tell him to take care of Beauford.

In 1941, he visited Knoxville briefly at around Christmas time and in 1950, he took the train from New York to Knoxville to see his mother.

Portrait of Delia Delaney
(1964) Oil on canvas
Photo courtesy of Case Antiques
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

His last visit as a resident of the U.S. was in August 1953, shortly before he shut down his New York studio and moved to Paris. Biographer David Leeming says that during this visit, Beauford "asked many questions about family history and went through family papers, as if this would be a last chance to do so."

Beauford's last visit to Knoxville took place in December 1969. By this time, he was so mentally fragile that he relied on others to make his travel arrangements. He somehow made it to Knoxville despite many mishaps along the way and was taken to the Delaney home by a taxi driver who knew his family. He celebrated his birthday there, went to church with his family, and painted. He left for Paris on January 14, 1970 and would never see the United States again.

Beauford's relatives visited him in Paris as well. Joseph came most frequently, but his brother Emery, his sister-in-law Gertrude, and his niece Imogene came in 1964. Joseph and Beauford's niece, Ogust Mae, attended Beauford's funeral.

*The creator of this photo is unknown to Les Amis de Beauford Delaney. We consider its publication in this blog post to be "fair use" according to U.S. copyright law (used for a non-profit educational purpose; no significant effect on the potential market for the work).

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Café Scene, 1966: The Beautiful in the Mundane

By Hanna Gressler

The comparison between Beauford’s earlier paintings, including his early portraits, and the works of art from later in his life depicts an evolution toward the abstract, in which conventional rules are abandoned and the human spirit is discovered through a new use of shapes and colors.    ~Hanna Gressler

I was first introduced to the artist Beauford Delaney by Dr. Monique Wells. As she told me about his life in Paris and I scanned images of his art, I was immediately taken by Beauford’s complex use of color to express meaning and a sense of wholeness in his paintings.

Flipping through images of his artwork, the painting Café Scene (1966) caught my eye due to the bright yellow that almost shines a light in your face.

When Dr. Wells asked me to write a post about Beauford for the Les Amis blog, I felt inspired to investigate what provoked my strong reaction in order to discover the painting’s deeper meaning. So, follow me through this step by step spiritual experience of what it is like to be faced with a painting by Beauford Delaney.

Café Scene - hung in the Grande Salle at the 2016
Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition in Paris
Photo by Sophia Pagan Photography

Café Scene
(1966) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

At first glance, your eyes are drawn to Café Scene’s predominant yellow hues. Suddenly, you are engulfed by a yellow light that emits a sense of warmth. Then you begin to gradually discern the lines of bodies gathered closely together, but not touching one another. The vague outline of these bodies evokes the simplicity of their character and their humanity. Although the people do not have distinct faces, the warmth of the yellow makes you feel welcomed in their environment, as if you are one of them.

Beauford gives us a glimpse into the lives of marginal people, whose beauty is expressed through the yellow light rather than their physical bodies. In doing so, he reveals a universal humanity that connects us to the world around us.

Next, you notice the fireplace, your point of perspective naturally drawn to the left-hand corner where the walls of the café come together. Like you, the people in the café are also drawn to the fireplace, their source of heat. The fireplace stretches all the way to the top of the ceiling, creating a sense of dimension in the image that allows you to be placed into the world of the café, among its other shapes and bodies.

Café Scene - detail (fireplace)
(1966) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Looking more closely, the floor of the café extends all the way toward the right-hand-side of the painting, as if inviting you to step in and join the other people. Here, the sources of heat are not only the yellow light and the fireplace, but also the sense of welcome and familiarity that they evoke. A mundane scene is portrayed as a beautiful environment. Beauford is letting us know that light and beauty can be found even in the dirtiest of corners and the darkest of alleyways.

Café Scene - detail (floor)
(1966) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

This painting is not unlike others by Beauford. In his art, there are no precise lines - only an abstract vision like that of a memory lying deep in the unconscious. In Café Scene, he accesses the darkness of the world and chooses to reflect the inner light of his subjects, rather than their physical attributes. The painting evokes a spiritual level of meaning that engages our humanity and calls for a certain transcendence.

As I continue to look at this painting, its yellow light glowing, I gain a new perspective of the world and myself. Beauford’s art allows you to see the world through his eyes, where terror exists alongside beauty, and where we must engage in a lifelong struggle to balance the two.

Hanna Gressler is a rising senior at the American University of Paris. She is serving as a 2017 summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Beautiful Haunt of Beauford Delaney

by Silver Wainhouse

Silver Wainhouse is a woman of many talents and accomplishments. She is the archivist of the Wainhouse Collection at Syracuse University; the director at Womanistics; and an actress, writer, speaker, astrologist, and coach. Wainhouse fell in love with Beauford's story and is now writing a play about his life. As part of her preparation for this project, she and I visited Beauford's gravesite at Thiais Cemetery. She has graciously submitted the article below for publication on the Les Amis blog.

Beauford Delaney’s body, about to be exhumed from an unmarked grave to be moved to a collective grave, became indignant. So, it did what all great spirits do, it attached itself to someone to keep it alive. And that person was Dr. Monique Y. Wells. Monique, who was moved to satisfy a growing curiosity about African-American gravesites in Paris, was rumbled by Beauford’s baritone voice.

Beauford's unmarked grave - 2009
© Discover Paris!

Beauford, after all, was a notable painter whose list of friends and acquaintances included the likes of James Baldwin, Jackson Pollock, W. C. Handy, Ethel Waters, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Richard Wright and Duke Ellington. He painted Marian Anderson as she sang. Of course Monique Y. Wells would be infected by his spirit.

During a lunch I caught the Beauford virus as Monique told me about Beauford’s life and of her project to reintroduce Beauford Delaney to the world. “You must read Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney by David Leeming,” she told me. “It is my Beauford bible.”

David Leeming does a remarkable job of immersing you in Beauford’s world. I will not see the colors of yellow and red as I did before. They have become Beauford’s colors when I see them, separate and merging. After reading Leeming’s book, I wanted to see his paintings. I wanted to visit his grave.

Monique and I coordinated a time for me to arrive, keeping in mind weather and the fact that I would have to take the northern bound to Paris train from Nîmes.

I felt as if I were on a holy pilgrimage and felt mounting tears. We stopped to buy yellow flowers to honor him. He so loved yellow. There was a sadness because we knew that he attempted to keep demons at bay his entire life, a contest he lost.

Silver Wainhouse at Beauford's Gravesite
© Discover Paris!

Thiais is a sprawling cemetery of 225 acres located 6.5 miles south of Paris. The sections range in appearance from desolate to noble. Beauford is in Section 86; now with a marked grave and hopefully with flowers from others who have discovered his beauty.

Thiais Cemetery - Division 86
© Discover Paris!

Jake Cigainero was piqued and a story about Beauford Delaney graced the New York Times. Just like in the ole days. It’s because Beauford Delaney has a way of getting into you. He really does.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Beauford in "Psychology and Art" - Part 3

Continued from Part 2.

As part of my interview with Dr. Robert Brubaker, Head of the Psychology department at Eastern Kentucky University, about Beauford and the Psychology of Art course that he conducts in Paris, I asked Dr. Brubaker how Beauford's childhood experiences influenced his creative achievements - positively or negatively.

Delaney Family Portrait, 1909
Standing: from left to right - Samuel Emery, John Samuel (father), and Delia (mother)
Seated: from left to right - Joseph, Ogust Mae, Beauford, Naomi
Photo from du Closel archive
Image © Discover Paris!

He responded as follows:
There is research to suggest that there are some childhood and family factors that are more common among especially creative people than among the less creative. One that seems relevant for Beauford is having had creative or aesthetically inclined parents.

David Leeming tells us that Delia Delaney was a creative person – a seamstress, a quilt-maker, and a singer.

Portrait of Delia Delaney
Beauford Delaney
(1933) Oil on canvas
Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, TN

Beauford’s younger brother Joseph was an artist, his older brother Samuel Emery sang, as did Beauford and his other siblings. The Delaney family seemed to appreciate and value artistic expression.

Image of a portrait of Joseph Delaney
by Beauford Delaney
in Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney
by David A. Leeming

Having had a mentor in childhood also seems important. Beauford received early encouragement from his employer at the sign painting shop. He was introduced to the artist Lloyd Branson, who recognized Beauford’s talent and ability, provided art lessons, shared with him his appreciation of light, encouraged him to pursue his art studies in Boston, and facilitated his move to that city.

Portrait of Lloyd Branson
ca. 1911
Image in public domain

His mother’s strong belief in Christian values and morality seemed to help Beauford deal with psychological distress caused by the voices that tormented him. Of course those same values, held by his father as well, may also have contributed to the guilt and conflict he felt over his sexuality for the remainder of his life. To the extent that these feelings motivated his art (painting helped him manage the voices he heard), they contributed to his artistic development.

Leeming also notes that Delia “…never revealed her suffering to others” and that she instilled that same quality in Beauford. It's possible that this encouraged him to express otherwise unacknowledged psychological distress in a less direct way, through his painting.

To read Part 1 of this article, click HERE.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Beauford in "Psychology and Art" - Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

Dr. Robert Brubaker and the students attending the Kentucky Institute of International Studies course on Psychology and Art are living in a hostel across the street from Sainte-Anne's Hospital, where Beauford spent the last four years of his life. They will visit the hospital to learn about art therapy and view artwork created by hospital patients.

Insignia - Sainte-Anne's Hospital
© Discover Paris!

Dr. Brubaker feels very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Sainte-Anne’s Hospital as part of the Psychology of Art class since 2007. The specific agenda varies from year to year, but he and the students typically meet with Dr. Anne-Marie Dubois, Head of the Centre d’Etude de l’Expression clinic and an internationally recognized expert on art therapy. Dr. Dubois talks about the work of her clinic, its history, and about the art collection of the Museum of Art History and History (formerly called the Musée Singer-Polignac) of Sainte-Anne Hospital. She also shares some pieces from the collection - these are works created by persons with mental illness and donated to the museum (not those who are patients in the art therapy clinics).

Entrance to the Centre d’Etude de l’Expression
© Discover Paris!

The Centre d'Etude de l'Expression was formed in 1952 and has operated as a French non-profit organization since 1973. It offers therapeutic expression workshops that incorporate art (and other means of expression, such as writing) into the therapeutic process. Work produced by the workshop participants, while part of the Centre’s collection, is not shared with the public.

The museum is only open to the public during planned exhibitions, the Journées du Patrimoine, and the Nuit Européene des Musées. The collection is stored in an archives located on the hospital grounds. Catalogs from previous exhibits and reproductions (postcards) are available for purchase at the museum. Dr. Dubois has authored a four-volume series of books on the collection (De l’art des fous a l’oeuvre d’art) illustrated with numerous stunning images of many of the works.

This year, Brubaker plans to ask if there are any works by Beauford in the hospital's collection.

I asked whether Dr. Brubaker thinks Beauford's "pathology" is reflected in his work. He responded:

Well, that’s another of those controversial issues. I will preface my response with the disclaimer that I am neither a Beauford Delaney scholar nor an art historian or critic. Based on my reading of what empirical research there is on the topic, I’m certainly not convinced it is possible to look at a piece of art and determine whether the artist had a mental illness or not (except, perhaps, in cases of severe cognitive impairment). I’m also very dubious about the validity of interpreting specific elements of a painting or drawing as symbolic of internal psychological conflicts or turmoil. The data from studies of the validity of projective drawing techniques have convincingly debunked that assertion.

I suspect that such interpretations reveal more about the person doing the interpreting than it does about the artist. Paintings reflect what the artist chooses to tell us. It’s one thing if Delaney tells us, as noted in the catalog of The Color Yellow exhibit, that he believed yellow is “… the color of light, healing, and redemption.” It’s quite another if we observe his use of yellow and draw that conclusion on our own.

The Color Yellow - catalog cover
© Discover Paris!
The entirety of the artist is reflected in his/her work. I don’t think there’s any justification for according “pathology”any special status.

Brubaker does not believe there is a way to know that Beauford struggled with psychological disturbances without prior knowledge of his history. He says that if he knew nothing about Beauford Delaney and noted Beauford's extensive use of yellow in his work, he might suggest that it reflects Beauford's bright, sunny, warm-hearted personality ... or he could just as easily argue that it was a form of masking or compensating for or dealing with depression and unhappiness. He says there are no characteristics of “art of the mentally ill.”

I asked Dr. Brubaker whether he thinks there is a "common significance" for the use of the color "yellow" based on his studies of various artists. While he said that he doesn't feel qualified to offer an opinion on this question, he mentioned the "obvious parallel" between Beauford's use of the color and Van Gogh's "seeming affinity for yellow (the sunflower paintings, the yellow house in Arles), particularly at a time when Van Gogh was more hopeful about his future." He now believes he needs to explore this issue more carefully:

Given the central role the color "yellow" has played in discussions of Delaney’s paintings as well is in those of Van Gogh, particularly during the period he (Van Gogh) spent in Arles, a more careful consideration of the psychological aspects of color is warranted.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Beauford in "Psychology and Art" - Part 1

This course will explore selected topics in the psychology of art within the context of 19th and 20th century painting (primarily painters working in Paris). Artists of particular interest include van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne, Utrillo, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Monet, Delaney, and Modigliani.

The above statements are found at the beginning of the course description for the Kentucky Institute for International Studies* course entitled "Psy 299 Topics: Psychology of Art" being held in Paris this summer.

Dr. Robert Brubaker, Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University, is leading this study abroad course. This year, he is including Beauford in the syllabus for the first time. He contacted Les Amis to ask about resources and materials that he could use to enhance his students' experience.

Professor Robert Brubaker, Eastern Kentucky University
© Discover Paris!

I suggested the "Beauford Delaney's Montparnasse" commemorative walking tour to Dr. Brubaker and arranged to meet him to learn more about the course. He graciously agreed to an interview about his interest in Beauford and his reasons for including Beauford in "Psychology and Art."

During the course, Dr. Brubaker and his students discuss a number of questions/issues/beliefs about the relationship between an artist’s psychological functioning and his/her work. To bring these issues to life and to provide some context, Brubaker likes to introduce the students to several artists who were known to have struggled with psychological disorders. He looks for artists with personal stories that will engage students and help them recognize the complexity of the relationship between mental illness and creativity.

Knowing something about the artist as a whole person and not someone defined by illness enriches our understanding of his/her work. It helps begin to dispel stereotypes about people with mental illness and about artists.

Because the course is taught in Paris, Brubaker selects artists who have some connection to the city. He says that being able to show students where the artists lived and worked, their favorite hangouts, their grave sites, scenes they painted, etc., further humanizes them. Two artists he always incorporates into the class are Vincent Van Gogh and Maurice Utrillo. Others, e.g., Modigliani, Toulouse Lautrec, Gauguin, Picasso, are included to illustrate certain points.

Until recently, Brubaker had only been aware of Beauford in the most general sense from studying art history. He knew Beauford was an American artist and was familiar with a few of his works (notably Can Fire in the Park). He found that Beauford’s life story, his struggles with mental illness, his circle of friends, the aesthetic appeal of his art, his connection with Paris, and his origins in Tennessee (not far from Kentucky) made him an excellent addition to the course.

Over the past few months, Dr. Brubaker read David A. Leeming’s biography, Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, and the catalogs from two Delaney exhibits, Beauford Delaney: From NY to Paris and Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow. He has read most of the posts on the Les Amis blog and a number of miscellaneous articles discovered online. He is adding Amazing Grace and the Les Amis blog to the bibliography for the course.

The blog led Brubaker to visit Knoxville to see the Gathering Light exhibition currently on display at the Knoxville Museum of Art prior to bringing his students to Paris. I asked him how that visit informed what he is having the students explore regarding Beauford's life and art. He responded:

The students and I explore the nature of creativity and the creative process – Do creative persons share particular personality characteristics, is creativity an inherent trait (some people have it, some don’t) or is it a skill to be learned? do creative ideas spring forth fully formed (inspired) or are they the product of experimentation and shaping and hard work?

What I found particularly interesting in the exhibition from a psychological perspective were the sketchbooks that are on display. I’m fascinated by artists’ sketchbooks because I think they often give us some insight into their thought processes. The quick sketches and notes suggest how the artist plays with ideas prior to putting brush to canvas or paper. For the same reason, the series of self-portrait studies were particularly interesting to me. I will share those observations during our class discussions.

I mentioned to Dr. Brubaker that "Psychology and Art" is a perfect example of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) education and asked him how much time he has his students spend looking at art during the course. He said they spend a great deal of time looking at images of art that accompany class presentations/lectures and they go on excursions to art museums to see works in person.

In addition, Brubaker uses images of paintings to illustrate how our brains process visual art – the neurological, perceptual, and cognitive processes that allow us to see, understand, and respond to a visual stimulus as a piece of art. When he mentioned that he had not been able to identify any works by Beauford that are on display in Paris, I organized a visit to the Galerie Intemporel so he and his students could see Beauford's art in person.

The image below shows Dr. Brubaker (far left) the students, and gallery owner Laurence Choko (far right) standing in front of Beauford's Portrait of Vassili Pikoula.

Professor Brubaker and KIIS "Psychology and Art" students at
Galerie Intemporel
© Discover Paris!

Portrait of Vasilli Pikoula
(1970) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

KIIS students at Galerie Intemporel
© Discover Paris!

To successfully complete the Psychology and Art course, students must write a final examination consisting of eight questions that Brubaker provides in advance. These questions reflect important questions studied by psychologists and others interested in art and artists. Brubaker expects students to describe various theories and points of view held by the experts and to present and evaluate the evidence supporting those positions. As an example, he cites the great interest in the question of whether the incidence of psychopathology is greater among artists and other creative people than it is in the general populations. There are published studies supporting this proposition and studies that disagree.

Brubaker says that because debates surrounding these questions often focus on criticisms of the methodology employed in the scientific studies used to explore them, there is no one "correct" answer for any of the exam questions.

At the end of our interview, Brubaker emphasized that he has only begun to study Beauford's life and work. "As we consider Delaney in the context of the psychology of art, I will be learning along with my students," he said.

Professor Brubaker admires Delaney paintings at Galerie Intemporel
© Discover Paris!

*KIIS is a consortium of colleges and universities in Kentucky and some surrounding states, including Eastern Kentucky University.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"Bringing Delaney Home" at the Knoxville Museum of Art

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a pilot project inspired by Beauford's art and life called Bringing Beauford Delaney Home. It was conducted at West View Elementary School in Knoxville, TN.

The Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA) is currently displaying the artwork created by the students who participated in that project as part of its Celebrate School Art Programs.

Hanging the students' art
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Museum of Art

Information panel
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Museum of Art

The information panel for the exhibition reads as follows (text reproduced with the permission of the museum):

The summer exhibition features West View Elementary students in the grade K-5. This art exhibition at KMA highlights the fundamental importance of the arts in the school curricula, an essential component to the healthy development and complete education of our young people.

Through a partnership with The Great Schools Partnership Community Schools Program, Knoxville Chapter of the Links, Inc., and the KMA, students at West View Elementary were able to spend six weeks learning about Beauford Delaney, one of Knoxville's greatest abstract painters of the 20th century.

The students studied the use of bold bright colors, and the color "yellow" one of Delaney's favorite colors. The students self-portraits are inspired by Beauford's yellow portraits.

Student self-portraits
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Museum of Art

The students also studied Beauford's abstract paintings from Paris, which inspired them to create abstract collages pieced together from many other abstract paintings they created.

Student abstracts
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Museum of Art

The large mixed-media piece is a collaborative painting made by all 26 students who participated in the Bringing Delaney Home project.

Collaborative student abstract
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Museum of Art

The students began the project knowing little or nothing about Beauford Delaney, but are now big fans of his artworks and are willing to share their new knowledge. On the learning expedition to the KMA, the students were excited to finally see the original work created by Delaney in person.

Bringing Delaney Home will hang in KMA's Education Gallery until June 30, 2017.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Still Lifes by Beauford

The Tate Gallery defines still life painting as follows:

One of the principal genres (subject types) of Western art – essentially, the subject matter of a still life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead.

Beauford rarely painted stiil lifes. There are two that I find particularly remarkable:

Still Life with Pears
(1946) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Still Life with Eggplant & Fruit
(1949) Pastel on paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Both of these works were painted prior to Beauford's relocation to Paris. Still Life with Pears is bold and crisp, while Still Life with Eggplant & Fruit is soft and sensual.

Both are revelations of Beauford's brilliant use of color.