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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Central Park, 1950

Celeste Hampton recently contacted me about Central Park, the beautiful pastel on paper from Beauford's New York period that is shown below.

Central Park
(1950) Pastel on paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

She recognized the work as one that had been given to her many years ago by her friend and mentor, Jordan Massee, and generously shared her story about Massee and the pastel. I have summarized it below.

Jordan Massee was a native of Macon, Georgia. He had a finely-tuned appreciation for all things cultural and he shared this passion with Hampton.

Massee lived in New York City for several years and ran an art gallery on 57th Street for a time. He knew Beauford and appreciated Beauford's art. Hampton says that Beauford gave Central Park to Massee as payment for a debt.

Massee framed the work and eventually gave it to Hampton as a high school graduation present in 1987. Hampton proudly hung it in her home.

Some time after Massee's death, Hampton remembered that Massee had told her the pastel could be "worth something" - perhaps one or two thousand dollars. In April 2002, she took it to the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery (MRG) in New York City for appraisal, accompanied by a representative of the Harriet Tubman Museum in Macon. The museum considered acquiring the work, but because it is a work on paper as opposed to an oil painting, it was not the "right fit" for their collection.

Michael Rosenfeld provided additional details to this story, stating that the pastel was mounted to a piece of acidic cardboard and was removed from the mount. He purchased it from Hampton when she determined she could not pay for its restoration and would not be able to provide the appropriate care for it in her home.

MRG considered including Central Park in the gallery's exhibition entitled African American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, IX, which traveled to the Tubman Museum and opened on April 29, 2002. Because the work was purchased soon before the exhibition opening, it was not possible to have it conserved and re-framed in time to be included in that show.

In 2003, MRG displayed Central Park in its exhibition titled African American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, X and an image of the work was published in the exhibition catalog.

During the 2003 exhibition, MRG sold the pastel to a private collector.

I asked Hampton if she could share information about Beauford's and Massee's relationship and she consulted her uncle, Bismarck Reine, for details. Reine was a dear friend of Massee and spent a great deal of time with him.

According to Reine, Massee had great respect for Beauford. The two men had "more of an intellectual relationship than anything else." They likely met through an introduction by Paul Bigelow, who was Massee's partner at the time.

Regarding the gift of Central Park to Massee, Reine said the following:
The painting was definitely Beauford's way of repaying Jordan for supplies, paints and more. Delaney never had money for supplies, but he always repaid his debts with work. [I do] not know the nature of the specific debt, but Jordan bought him paints and colored pencil and art supplies more than once. It was not a question of Jordan wanting or needing the money back - in Jordan's eyes the money was a gift.

Hampton and Reine recall that Beauford painted a portrait of Paul Bigelow, but neither of them knows its whereabouts today.

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