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!



Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Beauford's Birthday Tribute

Beauford Delaney
© Carl van Vechten 1953

I did not know Beauford Delaney personally.  But in reading about him and talking with people who knew him – in particular, Richard Gibson and Ed Clark – I have been repeatedly impressed by the glowing statements and vivid exclamations made about him. In Leeming’s biography, Beauford is described by friends as a “big Buddha” and “a veritable angel of a man.” James Baldwin described him as a “cross between Brer Rabbit and Saint Francis of Assisi,” and a “spiritual father.” In honor of the 108th anniversary of Beauford’s birth, and as a tribute to his warm and gentle spirit, here are several quotes written by people who knew and loved him. Happy Birthday, Beauford!

As for Beauford Delaney, it escapes the general notice that he has comprehended, more totally perhaps than anyone…the tremendous reality of the light which comes out of darkness. If we stand before a Delaney canvas, we are standing, my friends, in the light: and, if in this light, which is both loving and merciless, we are able to confront ourselves, we are liberated into the perception that darkness is not the absence of light, but the negation of it.
– James Baldwin

Portrait of James Baldwin
Beauford Delaney
Oil on canvas (1945)
Philadelphia Museum of Art

I think of Beauford Delaney first as a wonderful, amazing and unique human being, a near saint or better than saint, an individual who has known nothing but adversity, met it squarely, and rendered it null, not through success but by sheer pluck and indomitable fortitude…He has lived his whole life with but one thought in mind – to paint…Poor though he has been, he has never given the impression of being miserable. He has always given more than he received – that is to say, himself.
– Henry Miller
Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of Beauford Delaney as a man is his generosity of spirit. It is practically impossible for someone to do something so mean that Beauford is not ready to forgive it and understand.
– James Jones
For many years, the sparkle of his gaze shone around him and attracted a crowd of friends, fascinated by this strong, if silent, presence. It was not his discourse that captivated, but a light that emanated from him and permeated everyone. (Translated from French)
– Darthea Speyer

In honor of the centennial of Beauford’s birth in 2001, the Palmer Museum of Art organized an exposition of selected works by Beauford and his dear friend Larry Calcagno. It was shown at five institutions around the U.S. from February 2001 to November 2002.

Catalog cover for An Artistic Friendship

He is about the only person in my life, who gave me generously of deep insights into life – without demanding tribute. A true artist – beyond this world!
– Larry Calcagno
Two of Beauford’s friends sent tributes specifically for this blog posting. Here is an excerpt from what Richard Gibson has to say (his full tribute will be published in a subsequent posting):
Beauford Delaney was a master and friend who taught me how to see, hear and understand a lot that I learned about the arts, from jazz to Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson and the spirituals to the European and American classics, from the glories of African sculpture to Mondrian…
Finally, Richard Long has contributed the last lines of his poem “Ascending, for Beauford” (1975):
All gathers, comes to growth, fuses.

The yellow, the green. The white paper
catching, refracting the sunlight.

The palette fills with light and love.

The spirit lifts, rises.

The world floats, ascends.



Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas with Beauford

Amazing Grace - A Life of Beauford Delaney (by David Leeming, Oxford University Press, 1998) is the only biography of Beauford Delaney written to date.  Because Christmas is approaching, I consulted this volume in search of information about how Beauford celebrated the holidays in France.  I found several anecdotes, many of which are tinged with melancholy because of Beauford's worsening mental illness.  Below are two that bring to light Beauford's capacity to appreciate life under arduous conditions, and his ability to create art in the midst of them.

Beauford spent Christmas Eve of 1959 with James Baldwin and Beat poet Dixie Nimmo. Nimmo cooked an entire chicken on a single burner in his unheated apartment near the Seine (perhaps at “The Beat Hotel” on rue Git-le-Coeur), and all three men “drank quantities of red wine.” Leeming indicates that Beauford considered the meal the best that he had ever eaten and the evening as the happiest that he could remember.

In the days leading up to the Christmas of 1961, Beauford lived at the home of French art collector Solange du Closel and her husband. Du Closel had been a supporter of Beauford since 1958, when she visited his studio in Clamart and bought several of his paintings. With Beauford’s approval, she arranged for a psychiatrist to evaluate Beauford’s mental state, and followed the doctor’s recommendation to place Beauford at the Nogent-sur-Marne Maison de Santé for a rest cure during the Christmas holidays. Prior to his departure, she encouraged Beauford to paint Christmas scenes. Beauford obliged her, creating several works.

Nativity Scene
Beauford Delaney
Oil on canvas (1961)

He gave a painting to Madame du Closel, which featured a simple nativity scene on a bright yellow background that would become a hallmark of several of Beauford’s later works. Beauford would continue to give the du Closels paintings at Christmas time.

Les Amis de Beauford Delaney wishes you the best for the holiday season! 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Journal Officiel Announcement!

The announcement for Les Amis de Beauford Delaney has been published in the Journal Officiel – two weeks earlier than anticipated! It appeared in the December 12, 2009 issue and arrived in my mailbox a week later. I have never seen anything administrative be accomplished so quickly in this country.

Now that the association has the right to enter into contracts and other legally binding activities, the next step is to open a French bank account. Because the holidays are approaching, I anticipate that this will take a little time. But maybe, “lightning will strike twice,” and I’ll be surprised once again!

A suivre… (Stay tuned…)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Our Association - Les Amis de Beauford Delaney

In France, it is surprisingly easy to create a non-profit association. Basically, all you need are two people and the desire to create an organization to achieve some goal. Neither age nor nationality is important. You write the statutes for your association, submit them to the local authorities along with a couple of additional supporting documents, and await the arrival of a confirmation notice from the authorities indicating that your organization has been created. This generally occurs within five days of your submission, provided that there is no problem with the paperwork that you submit.

Approximately a month after receiving the confirmation notice, an announcement will appear in a French government publication called Journal Officiel. You must pay the journal to cover its costs for printing this announcement, but once it has been published, your organization can engage in legally binding operations. It is also eligible to receive subsidies from government and other institutions.

I undertook the task of creating our organization a few weeks ago and the process has gone very smoothly thus far. I took care to solicit advice about how to construct the statutes of the association so that they would be broad enough to allow us to engage in a wide variety of activities in pursuit of our goal. There were no questions about our documentation when I went to the Prefecture de Police (the local authority responsible for managing applications for non-profit associations), and the confirmation letter was signed three days later. It arrived within the expected time frame. We still have a couple of weeks to wait before the appearance of the announcement in Journal Officiel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How I became involved in the affair regarding Beauford’s gravesite

Prior to the summer of 2009, I would not have considered myself a “Friend of Beauford Delaney.” I knew of Beauford’s life and his paintings because of my work: I write personalized itineraries for Anglophone travelers to Paris and travel articles about Paris. Through my research on 20th-century African-American Paris expatriates, I knew that he was well respected, and much loved. At the time that I discovered the situation regarding his gravesite, I was researching an article on African-American gravesites in and around Paris. But I was not a personal friend, or even an acquaintance.

I knew that Beauford was buried near Paris, but could not remember where. I contacted a colleague whom I believed could give me the information that I sought, but he could not remember the name of the cemetery either. He contacted his colleagues and found that Beauford was interred at Thiais. But his colleagues expressed concern that Beauford’s remains would be exhumed this year, if they had not been already.

I called the cemetery to inquire about the status of the grave. Having been assured that Beauford’s remains were still safely in the ground, I went to the cemetery to see the gravesite for myself. Armed with the coordinates of the tomb (Division 86, Line 2, Tomb 45), I found the division easily enough. However, I was unable to accurately determine the line and space for the grave because of the absence of any sign indicating line numbers or the direction that one needed to walk to begin counting the individual tombs. In addition, most of the land in this division appeared “unoccupied”—either the graves were unmarked or the spaces were actually empty. At this time, I did not know that Beauford’s grave was unmarked. 

Beauford's unmarked grave
© Discover Paris!

Finally, two guards were able to help me.  They indicated that one begins counting the lines of a division at the lower left corner, and that one counts the tombs from left to right.  They both walked the length of Line 2 and arrived at the same space for Tomb 45.  The grave was unmarked, and was only distinguishable by a mound of dirt overgrown by weeds.  A small, ceramic flower arrangement sat at the head of the plot, but there was no way to know whether this had been placed there by mistake.

I would later learn that the arrangement had been placed at the grave by Sue Canterbury, the curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Art who organized an exposition of Beauford’s work entitled Delaney: From New York to Paris. She is one of the persons committed to keeping Beauford’s grave intact.

Remembering the stories that I heard personal friends of Beauford tell about him, and having recently read the biography of Beauford by David Leeming, I felt that the least I could do for this exceptional man was to help keep his remains interred as long as possible. Friends gathered the necessary funds, sent them to me, and I submitted them to the cemetery. Beauford’s concession is now paid in full through 2011.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Welcome to the blog site for Les Amis de Beauford Delaney (English translation: Friends of Beauford Delaney)! We are a small, French non-profit organization (Association 1901), that was created in November 2009. The following are the goals of our organization:
    1) Placement and maintenance of a tombstone for the grave of painter Beauford Delaney, who is buried at the Parisian Cemetery of Thiais.
    2) Payment of the renewal fees for his grave.
    3) Organization of commemorative or educational events in his honor.
    4) Inform the press and the media of his life and accomplishments.
You may ask yourself why we have undertaken this project. The answer is simple: Beauford Delaney was an extraordinary man and an exceptional artist, and we want to do everything that we can to preserve his memory.

Photo of a photo of Beauford
© Discover Paris!

Beauford (as he preferred to be called) died intestate in Paris, France in 1979. He was buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery outside Paris. Per French custom, fees for gravesites must be paid at regular intervals—or the remains of the deceased will be exhumed and either placed in a common grave, or cremated and scattered in a garden. Several friends of Beauford discovered that his fees (concession in French) had not been paid since 1981. We recently collected the money to settle the outstanding debt for his gravesite so that he is assured of resting in peace until 2011. We now want to place a permanent marker at his grave, as well as provide a means for continued payment of the gravesite fees and the maintenance of the marker.

For more details, please refer to the following articles:

A Final Resting Place for Beauford Delaney

Burial site of Knoxville's Beauford Delaney remains undisturbed thanks to friends, admirers

We have already obtained permission from the Paris Cemetery Service to place the monument, and we have selected a simple, yet dignified tombstone to honor Beauford’s memory. But we have no funds to cover the cost of the construction of the slab. We have therefore created Les Amis de Beauford Delaney to provide a legal means of collecting the money to proceed.

Please stay tuned for further blog entries as we keep you informed of our efforts. If you have questions, or wish to contribute, please do not hesitate to contact us at amisdebeauford@yahoo.com.