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the first full-length documentary about Beauford.

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Saturday, June 27, 2020

Dive In with the Stanley - Beauford's "Untitled (Paris)" Examined

In December 2011, I published an article about where in the U.S. Midwest Beauford's work could be found. Here's a quote from that post:

"The University of Iowa Museum of Art holds an untitled Beauford Delaney painting that dates from 1929.  It is classified as a drawing, and is not currently on view.  The orange and brown hues in this work remind me of autumn."

(1929) Watercolor 
The University of Iowa Museum of Art
Gift of the Estate of James Lechay, 2003.5

A few days ago, I received a Google Alert about Beauford entitled "Dive In with the Stanley" that stated the following:

"This week Lauren and Uri consider Beauford Delaney's watercolor Untitled (Paris). They will go live on Instagram at 7:00 p.m. on June 23."

I contacted Elizabeth Wallace, Communications Director at the Stanley Museum at the University of Iowa to inquire about the presentation. I was told that Director Lauren Lessing was hosting the Instagram Live session and that it would be posted on the museum's Instagram account for viewing after the session was over. Director Lessing contacted me as well.

I viewed the recording two nights ago and thoroughly enjoyed it!

Director Lessing began by describing Beauford as "one of the most versatile and interesting artists of the 20th century." She talked about how he frequently alternated painting styles and how this makes his work difficult to date when Beauford did not indicate a date on a particular work.

Director Lauren Lessing and Untitled (African Sculpture)
Screenshot from Instagram Live recording

Lessing then indicated that Untitled (Paris) might not have been painted in 1929, which is the date I was given when I researched my 2011 article. She presented three additional possibilities for the year Beauford produced the painting: 1952, 1962, and 1969.

In the midst of technical difficulties and the exuberance of the family dog, Lessing invited viewers to share their thoughts about the colors in the work and presented a thorough overview of the four phases of Beauford's life as an artist. She wove artists such as John Singer Sargent, Marsden Hartley, and Sam Gilliam into her narrative and showed several works by Beauford to illustrate the salient points she made.

She concluded that Beauford likely created Untitled (Paris) in 1962.

I contacted Director Lessing to ask several questions inspired by her presentation and she was kind enough to quickly answer them for me. Find them below.

Les Amis: Is Untitled (Paris) currently on display at the Stanley?

Lessing: No. Because it is a work on paper we allow it plenty of rest between exhibitions to protect it from damage caused by UV light. At the moment, very little of our collection is on view as we are preparing to move into a new building that is under construction and that will open in 2022.

Artist's rendering of new Stanley Museum of Art
Image courtesy of BNIM

Les Amis: Is there a routine established whereby the work is on display for a certain period of time each year?

Lessing: No, but once we are in our building the painting will be accessible. We will simply bring it out of storage and show it in our studio classroom upon request to whoever makes an appointment to see it. It may be on view in our galleries during our inaugural exhibition, September 2022-August 2023, but that is still coming together.

Les Amis: When was the date of this work called into question and why? When I received information about it almost 10 years ago, I was told that the date was 1929.

Lessing: The confusion comes from the date inscribed in the lower left corner. It’s just very faint and unclear. The third digit could be a 2, a 5, or a 6. The last digit could be a 2 or a 9. While Delaney studied with a painter who loved atmospheric effects in the 1920s, I think our painting is an abstract work rather than a hazy landscape, so I think it was painted in the 60s. If I had to guess, I’d say ‘62 but it could be ‘69. If we can find a detail of the date, we will send it your way. You’re familiar with his hand, and could probably solve this for us.

Les Amis: Are the dates you give during the presentation based on the appearance of the notation that Beauford made?

Lessing: Yes.

Signature and date for Untitled (Paris)

Les Amis: Can you share references that describe the relationship between James Lechay and Beauford?

Lessing: James Lechay gave us the painting and I don’t believe we know how he got it. But he was working as an artist in New York when Delaney was also there, and they shared several friends, so I like the idea that they knew one another. A little research could confirm this. I’m certain that Lechay admired Delaney’s work. There are similarities between the two artists’ styles, and I think Delaney was likely an influence on Lechay.

Les Amis: Is the museum looking to acquire additional Beauford Delaney works?

Lessing: Although our acquisition funds are limited, we would love to have additional works by Delaney in our collection.

Les Amis: If so, are you looking for a specific "type" of work (figurative versus abstract; portrait versus landscape; oil versus watercolor or gouache)?

Lessing: He was such a versatile and innovative painter, and his oeuvre is incredibly rich and varied. I do love his portraits, and having one would be a nice complement to our abstract painting, but one of the larger abstractions in oil would also be fabulous, as would a drawing.

Director Lauren Lessing and Portrait of Gaylord
Screenshot from Instagram Live recording

Les Amis: Who is the audience for "Dive In with the Stanley?"

Lessing: Whoever tunes in! It is pitched toward a general audience, and Instagram itself tends to draw younger people, but I’m always surprised by who turns up—artists, curators, art historians, and parents at home with their children. We never know.

Les Amis: What do viewers believe is the year that Untitled (Paris) was painted?

Lessing: Most people said 1962, but I may have predetermined that.

Les Amis: Are Beauford's life and work part of any curriculum taught at the University of Iowa?

Lessing: Yes. We use works in our collection to support teaching across the curriculum. Our beautiful Delaney painting has been seen by students in studio art and art history courses, and it also has much to teach students in American Studies and African American Studies courses.

Watch the Instagram Live episode here: UIStanleyMuseum

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