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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Paris, France - A Work on Paper

The Menil Collection* in Houston, TX owns a single Beauford Delaney work - a drawing called Paris, France.

Paris, France

Ink on paper
8 1/4 × 10 9/16 in. (21 × 26.8 cm)
Signed LR: "Beauford Delaney" and inscribed LC: "Paris - France"
The Menil Collection
Gift of William A. and Joan Seeman Robinson
Photograph and Digital Image © The Menil Collection
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

I learned about this piece when I visited the Menil Collection in June 2017 and met curator Michelle White. She told me that it represented a street scene in Paris and said that it was currently archived. She later generously shared this image and asked me to comment on it from the perspective of a Paris resident.

Though my initial point of reference was a Paris street scene, I believe this work is a melange of several themes.

I see several human and abstract forms in the rectangular space that makes up two-thirds of the upper half of the drawing. On the left side, I see structures that could be construed as buildings, even dwellings, but they do not remind me of Paris.

In the bottom half of the drawing, I see a human figure next to the "dwelling" in the lower left corner. Moving my eyes to the right, I see a series of arches that stretch across the length of the work. They immediately bring to mind the viaduct that supports the trains of Metro Line 6 at Pont de Bercy - a bridge that connects the 12th and 13th arrondissements. The viaduct was built in 1904.

Viaduct at Pont de Bercy
2016 Cramos
Creative Commons License

After thoughtful consideration of what this drawing might depict, I shared it with curator Stephen Wicks at the Knoxville Museum of Art (with curator White's permission) and asked him to comment on it. Wicks recently curated a solo exhibition of Beauford's work that included numerous sketches.

He responded as follows:

...this strikes me as one of his [Beauford's] small ink sketches from the mid-1960s. I see 3-4 abstracted figures in the upper center surrounded by architectural elements in the foreground (arches) and left margin (roof lines) that suggest perhaps an open air concert or performance in Montparnasse or thereabouts. As you know, he adored the performing arts and depicted musicians and other performers in many paintings and sketches throughout his career.

Beauford lived in a studio on rue Vercingétorix during the 1960s and 70s. During the early- to mid-1970s, his neighborhood underwent massive renewal - including the demolition of the building that housed his studio. It is quite possible that the buildings and other structures represented in this drawing no longer exist.

*The Menil Collection suffered no damage from Hurricane Harvey.

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