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, August 28, 2010

Beauford's Ocean Voyage to Paris

Fifty-seven years ago today, Beauford set sail for France on the SS Liberté. 

Beauford on the deck of the SS Liberté
Photo from David Leeming’s Amazing Grace

I googled the ship’s name and was pleasantly surprised to find lots of interesting information about it! I also found photos that depict the accommodations that Beauford (and fellow artist Herb Gentry) experienced aboard ship.

The Liberté was first christened as the SS Europa. It was a German ocean liner that made transatlantic voyages in five days. Captured by the Americans during World War II, the ship was given to France as part of the reparations that the defeated German nation was forced to pay.

The Europa was repainted in French colors and towed to Le Havre for refitting. It was renovated as a luxury passenger-liner, and was destined to replace France’s pride and joy, the SS Normandie, which was a casualty of the war. The refitting suffered two great setbacks. First, a violent storm wrenched the ship from its berth, causing it to collide with a partially submerged vessel in the harbor. This caused the Europa to sink. It was refloated several months later, towed to Saint Nazaire, and refurbished. A dock fire almost destroyed the ship there in 1949.

Once the fire was extinguished, work on the ship resumed at a feverish pace. Under the auspices of France’s Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT), the newly renamed SS Liberté finally set sail on its maiden voyage to New York City in 1950.

Maiden voyage of SS Liberté to NYC
Photo from www.monstersofthesea.com

The vessel was quite luxurious, and was the pride of France’s passenger fleet for many years.

SS Liberté Embarkation Room
Photo from www.monstersofthesea.com

SS Liberté Grand Salon
Photo from www.monstersofthesea.com

Theater on the SS Liberté
Photo from www.cruiselinehistory.com

African Americans reportedly preferred sailing on French liners because they were better treated aboard these ships than on the rival Cunard British liners and on U.S. ships. Sarah Vaughn and W. E. B. and Shirley DuBois are among many African Americans who made the transatlantic voyage to Europe on the Liberté.

Sarah Vaughn on deck on the SS Liberté
Photo from www.cruiselinehistory.com

W. E. B. and Shirley DuBois on board the SS Liberté
Photo from www.cruiselinehistory.com

Click here to watch a home video made by passengers on the Liberté (exact date of film unknown).

The Liberté was taken out of service in 1961, with its farewell voyage departing New York and docking in Le Havre. In January 1962, it sailed for Italy, where it was scrapped.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Beauford: The Georgia O'Keeffe Portraits

Portrait of Beauford Delaney
Georgia O'Keeffe
(1943) Pastel on paper
Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis, MN

The Georgia O'Keeffe portraits of Beauford are the most beautiful portrayals of him that I have ever seen.  The one shown above is part of the private collection of Curtis Galleries in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  There is a second portrait at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian, and a third at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

The Smithsonian work, a portrait in profile, is rendered with colors and textures similar to the portrait shown above.  The Smithsonian describes the portrait as "reverent", indicating that it "honors Beauford Delaney's magnanimity, perseverance, and courage in the face of difficulty."  The Web site image is accompanied by a brief audio commentary that I found to be compelling.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) owns a charcoal on paper portrait of Beauford by O'Keeffe.

Untitled (Beauford Delaney)
Georgia O'Keeffe
(c 1940) Charcoal on paper
Philadelphia Museum of Art

This portrait also dates from the 1940s.

PMA's curatorial department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs generously provide me with the information in their file on the O'Keeffe charcoal portrait, as follows:

The portrait hung in the PMA exposition called Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz  (Feb 7 - May 23, 1999), and in its Beauford Delaney in Context: Selections from the Permanent Collection exposition (Oct 21, 2005 - Jan 3, 2006) Prior to its acquisition by the PMA, the drawing was included in an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art (Oct 8 – Nov 29, 1970) which also travelled to the Art Institute of Chicago (Jan 6-Feb 7, 1971) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art ( Mar 15-Apr 30, 1971).

PMA cited the publication Georgia O'Keeffe, Some Memories of Drawings (1988), edited by Doris Bry, in which O'Keeffe wrote:

I first met Beauford Delaney when he was posing for Mary Callery. I found that he was a painter and posed for others because he had no heat in his studio and needed to keep warm. He seemed a very special sort of person so I began drawing him too.

I don’t remember where I worked on him- maybe at Mary’s – maybe in my own place. But I made several drawings and a couple of pastels of him. 
The gallery label for the 1999 Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz exhibit stated the following:
Beauford Delaney was one of only two individuals Georgia O'Keeffe depicted in her career (the other was Alfred Stieglitz's niece, Dorothy Schubart) and that she drew five portraits of him in the early 1940s.  A regular at Stieglitz's New York gallery, An American Place, Delaney was particularly impressed by O'Keeffe's work, which he described as "alive and quite amazing." O'Keeffe, in turn, deeply respected Delaney's painting and wrote a tribute to him in the catalogue for his 1973 solo exhibition at Darthea Speyer's gallery in Paris.

For the exposition that Darthea Speyer organized for Beauford in Paris in 1973, Speyer published O'Keeffe's statement along with others from James Jones, James Baldwin, and Henry Miller.  O'Keeffe had the following to say:

I knew Beauford Delaney some twenty-six or twenty-eight years ago.  He was a very special person—impossible to define. I think of him often as a special experience and always with a feeling that it is fine to know he is living—somewhere—still being his special self—what I do not exactly know, but he is a special kind of thought.

I find that O'Keeffe's exquisite portraits of Beauford are the ultimate expression of this "special kind of thought."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Soul Brother" or The Haynes Restaurant Portrait

Below is another remembrance of Burt Reinfrank about Beauford. This one concerns a Delaney portrait at Haynes’ Restaurant.

Haynes’ was the longest standing African-American-owned restaurant in Paris. For many years, Leroy Haynes regaled his customers with great Southern cuisine and his larger-than-life persona at 3, rue Clauzel in the 9th arrondissement. After his death in 1986, his widow Maria continued the tradition. Haynes’ Restaurant permanently closed its doors in 2009.

 Haynes' Restaurant
© Discover Paris!


We heard there was a Delaney painting hanging in Haynes Restaurant. I telephoned to confirm this and was told that the painting was a Delaney self-portrait. I knew that Haynes and Beauford had known one another, so I was curious to see it. I made a dinner reservation for 8 pm on March 9, 2001.

That evening, we found the Delaney portrait hanging on the wall of the dining room above the banquettes. It was well lit from above. Upon seeing the painting, I said to the young man and woman who greeted us and showed us to a table that if this was the restaurant’s Delaney portrait, it was not a self-portrait.

“Man with Cigarette” portrait at Haynes Restaurant
© 2001 Burton Reinfrank

The personnel of the restaurant were aware that the painting had a certain value. They said that some months before, a woman from Atlanta had come by to see the painting. As she was organizing a Delaney exhibition, she asked if it might be loaned or sold. Her request was denied.

While not a Beauford self-portrait, the Haynes painting seemed familiar nonetheless. To investigate further, I looked over photographs that I had taken in Beauford’s studio years before. In a photo from January 1968, I saw the portrait from Haynes restaurant on the wall behind Beauford, who was seated on his bed. I remember the portrait had hung for some weeks on the studio wall, during which time Beauford made a few changes. These are visible in the photograph of the finished painting that I took at Haynes’ Restaurant in 2001.

Beauford and “Man with Cigarette” portrait
© 1968 Burton Reinfrank

Over the years that I visited Beauford in his studio, I saw many portraits hanging on the wall. They were waiting to be worked on further, to be signed off as sold, or given away. I heard recently that the Haynes’ Delaney had “Soul Brother” written on the back of the canvas. As I never saw the back of the painting at Beauford’s studio or at Haynes Restaurant, I cannot comment on this.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Beauford and the Reinfrank Portrait

Burt Reinfrank was a close personal friend of Beauford. When I started this blog, Burt graciously consented to contribute remembrances of events and encounters with Beauford from time to time. I am pleased to share one of these below.


I had never thought of having a portrait done of myself. But in September 1966, when I saw the portrait Beauford was working on at his easel (a portrait of James Speyer, Curator of Twentieth-Century Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, and brother of Darthea Speyer), I asked Beauford if he would paint one of me of the same size He said he would, but stipulated, “You’ll have to bring me the canvas.” (Beauford was using a “60 F,” or “60 Figure,” canvas for the Speyer painting. “60 F” was an indication of the size and shape of the canvas, which measures 130 x 97 cm, or roughly 51 x 38 inches).

The following Saturday when I came by Beauford’s studio, Speyer’s portrait was still on the easel, but the color of the background and that of Speyer’s sweater had been reversed. When I mentioned this, Beauford said that when Speyer saw what he had done, he asked Beauford to reverse the colors. Beauford obliged him. Speyer soon left France for Chicago with the finished portrait, which he hung in the entry of home there (see Art in America, July-August 1967, page 40.)

James Speyer
1966, Oil on canvas
Collection of Anstiss and Ronald Kruek, Chicago
From the catalog Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow (2002)

A winter morning some months later, I arrived at Beauford’s studio with a 60 Figure white canvas, which Beauford immediately put on his easel. He sat me in a chair, picked up a piece of charcoal, sat down behind the canvas, and started to draw and talk. I realized immediately that I should have had a tape recorder with me. He talked about everything: his ancestral mix, his family, life experiences—some pleasant, some the opposite—but all with his understanding of their deeper meaning.

After one and one-half hours, Beauford stopped and said, “Come and have a look.” The drawing was superb! I thought to myself, “This is so good that I want to keep it as a drawing.” I said this to Beauford, who nodded but seemed to want to start painting immediately. I had my camera with me, so I took several shots of the drawing before I left. When I returned a week later, the drawing had disappeared under paint. The only remembrance I have of it is a photograph that I took just after completion (see photo below).

Photo of Beauford Delaney drawing of Burton Reinfrank
© Burton Reinfrank

Although Beauford saw me from time to time while he was working on the portrait, the only time I ever posed for it was during the sitting for the original charcoal drawing. I told Beauford at the start of the project that I was not looking for a likeness, but rather, a “great portrait.”

Burton Reinfrank
1968, Oil on canvas
Image courtesy of Burton Reinfrank

The finished painting first went on public view in a retrospective of Beauford’s work at the American Cultural Center in an evening dedicated to Beauford on March 21, 1969. It was next shown in the exhibition “Twin Cities Collects” from September 2000 to January 2001 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The portrait appeared again on exhibition as part of the Delaney retrospective, “Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris,” which began at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in November 2004, traveled to the Knoxville Museum of Art and the Greenville County Museum of Art in 2005, and ended at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in January 2006.

Photo of the Reinfrank Portrait at the
Minneapolis Institute of Arts Exhibit
© 2005 Robert Meier