Les Amis de Beauford Delaney is supporting the completion of


the first full-length documentary about Beauford.

Join us in making this video tribute to Beauford a reality!



Saturday, May 23, 2020

Larry Calcagno and Dante Pavone - A Curious Resemblance

In preparation for this post, which was originally conceived to present the results of Black Art Auction's offer of Beauford's portrait of Larry Calcagno during its inaugural sale on May 16, I stumbled across a serendipitous side-by-side presentation of the portraits of Calcagno and Dante Pavone on the Entrée to Black Paris Facebook page (shown below):

Portrait of a Young Man (Larry Calcagno)
(1953) Oil on canvas
31.75 x 25.5 inches
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Dante Pavone as Christ
(1948) Pastel on paper
23.25 x 19.75 inches
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator
Knoxville Museum of Art,
2016 purchase with funds provided by the KMA Collectors Circle with additional gifts from Barbara Apking, June and Rob Heller, Donna Kerr, Alexandra Rosen and Donald Cooney, Ted Smith and David Butler, Mimi and Milton Turner, John Cotham, Jan and Pete Crawford, Cathy and Mark Hill, Florence and Russell Johnston, John Z. C. Thomas, Donna and Terry Wertz, Jayne and Myron Ely, Sarah Stowers, Robin and Joe Ben Turner, and Jacqueline Wilson

I was struck by the similarity of the proportions of the eyes (left eye slightly larger than the right) and the hand gesture in these works, and was inspired to ask two colleagues to comment on this curious resemblance.

Rachel Cohen, Professor of Practice in the Arts at the University of Chicago and author of A Chance Meeting, commented as follows:

"I saw this pastel, Dante Pavone as Christ, in Knoxville this past February, and was struck by the intensity the artist evidently felt in making it – the colors are almost lurid, and the hand is almost medieval in the way it holds the Christ-like gesture. Standing with the work, and thinking about what I know of Beauford Delaney’s relationship with Dante Pavone, I had an intimation of how religious feeling and erotic feeling were near to each other for the artist.

"It is then extremely interesting to see the shadow of that same gesture in the oil Portrait of a Young Man (Larry Calcagno). The hand in the oil has opened and become more like an ordinary gesture, or one that might be characteristic of Calcagno, but also – in the way the fingers overlap, and the way the small finger bends – seems distinctly to remember the earlier hand. I haven’t seen this painting, but in the photo, the hand looks tender to me, and like the kind of gesture one might make in sculpting, or in touching someone else’s face with tenderness. The significance, and tenderness, of Delaney’s relationship with Calcagno has been well written about in this blog and in David Leeming’s biography, Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney. To my mind, the presence of the gesture here, reinforces my hesitant thought about the way erotic and religious feelings were overlaid for Delaney.

Larry Calcagno and Dante Pavone - detail (left hand)

"The eyes in the two portraits also bear a similarity. It is not unusual for painters to paint two very different eyes – this creates expressiveness and avoids common problems of amateur painting (if eyes are too similar in a painting they may seem rote and lifeless or demonic, and if their positions are too closely aligned, they seem to follow the viewer around the room). But it is interesting here that the two pairs of eyes are different in a similar way, the two eyes to the viewer’s left are almost identical in shape, and the two eyes on the right have a larger circle of iris. I find it hard to say what the effect of this is by studying reproductions, but I notice that if I cover the eyes in turn, the overall quality of expressiveness goes away and the expression changes in the remaining eye.

Larry Calcagno and Dante Pavone - detail (eyes)

"The last thing I would say is that I feel heartened by the sequence. The pastel of Dante Pavone in 1948 makes me worry a little for Delaney, that the object of his passionate feeling holds him at bay with something that might approach indifference. But the 1953 painting seems very open – the light of the earth and the light of the heavens more mingled, less harsh – and I feel glad that he felt this beneficence in his Paris years."

Stephen Wicks, Barbara W. and Bernard E. Bernstein Curator at the Knoxville Museum of Art, had the following to say:

"... these are two of the rare instances in which the artist includes this sort of gesture. While Dante’s blessing gesture makes sense given that Delaney has depicted him “as Christ,” I have always been interested in the artist’s choice to use the subject’s left hand rather than the traditional right hand in earlier portraits of Christ. I also find it interesting as a possible farewell gesture given that by the time the Calcagno painting was created in 1953 Beauford perhaps had learned of his friend’s decision to leave Paris for America the following year. Since Leeming casts Calcagno as a social/personal “replacement” for Pavone, whom Delaney left behind when he set off for Paris in 1953, perhaps it seems not so surprising that he used this blessing/farewell gesture (also with the left hand) in his depiction of Calcagno."

By the way, Black Art Auction estimated that Portrait of a Young Man (Larry Calcagno) would sell for $25,000 - $35,000. It sold for $40,000.

No comments: