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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."

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