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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Beauford and Marcel Duchamp

Thanks to Peter Stebbins, President of the Lily and Earle M. Pilgrim Art Foundation, I was recently able to publish an article about Vincent Livelli's recollections of Beauford during Beauford's New York years.

Stebbins also graciously connected me with Kate Prendergast and Jane Barrell Yadav, the daughters of painter Marcia Marcus. Marcus and Lily & Earle Pilgrim were dear friends and Marcus' daughters are passionately working to preserve their mother's legacy.

Marcus had the extraordinary opportunity to photograph Beauford with French artist and writer Marcel Duchamp. Her daughters kindly allowed me to publish the photo below and shared the story of how the opportunity came to be.

Marcel Duchamp (center) and Beauford (lower right), 1953
© Marcia Marcus / Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Image courtesy of Kate Prendergast

An article that describes the events of that day states that:

"In March 1953, Michael Freilich, owner of the Roko Gallery in Greenwich Village, asked twenty-eight year-old Victor Obsatz to photograph Marcel Duchamp in his apartment at 210 West 14th Street. A double exposure occurred by chance, creating an overlay of Duchamp’s playful smile and iconic profile ....

"The work has since become one of the most well-known and sought-after images of the artist, and has been reproduced in many texts on Duchamp, Dada, and Surrealism, including the National Portrait Gallery’s 2009 exhibition catalogue “Inventing Marcel Duchamp: The Dynamics of Portraiture.”

Though the article mentions neither Marcus nor Beauford, both were present that day. Obsatz, who was Marcus' classmate at Cooper Union, took a photo of her sitting next to Duchamp on a sofa, with her camera lying between them.

According to biographer David Leeming, Beauford met Duchamp in New York when he visited Freilich's home. Duchamp and Freilich lived in the same building at the time.

Portrait of a man in red / Michael Frelich
(1965) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
By permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Obsatz invited Marcus to assist him at the photo shoot and Marcus took several photos of Duchamp with her camera. She is the author of the photo that places Beauford at the scene. She later became known for double imagery (reflections - shadow - mirrors) in her paintings.

Click HERE to see a couple of the photos Marcus took that day, as well as Obsatz's photograph of her and Duchamp.

The phrasing of the Moeller Fine Art article regarding the location of the photo shoot is ambiguous - it could be taken to mean that the group met at Freilich's apartment or at Duchamp's place.

Note that Beauford's Still Life with Pears is partly visible on the wall to the left of Duchamp in Marcus' photograph.

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

It is certainly possible that Duchamp owned the painting. But given that Freilich had been showing Beauford's work at the Roko Gallery since 1949, it seems more likely that Still Life with Pears would hang in Freilich's apartment. (To the best of my knowledge, this work remains in a private collection.)

Kate Prendergast found the image of Duchamp and Beauford in her mother's archived materials. In a telephone interview that she recorded with Obsatz in July 2016, he mentions that Freilich introduced him to Duchamp and indicates that Beauford was present during the shoot.

Had it not been for the legacy work that Marcus' daughters are pursuing, we may never have known about Beauford's involvement in this moment in art history!

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