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, May 31, 2014

Astonishing Sale of a Beauford Delaney Abstract

The Beauford Delaney abstract shown in the image below was auctioned by Drouot on April 5, 2014 in Lyon, France.

La Gazette Drouot magazine article
Image by Discover Paris!
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

While it was no surprise that the painting sold, what astonished Drouot was the price for which it sold. The estimated sale price was 700 euros (approximately $950), but when all was said and done, the work fetched a handsome 20,400 euros* (approximately $27,760)!

The untitled abstract measures 22x33 cm (8x13 inches) and is signed and inscribed "Bon Nassaine Hovard" on the back of the canvas. It came from the Darthea Speyer Gallery in Paris.

The article in La Gazette Drouot describes an intense bidding war over the painting that took place between those in the room and potential buyers on several phone lines. The magazine says that the purchase price "pulverized" the estimates for the sale.

La Gazette Drouot magazine article - detail
Image by Discover Paris!
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Presumably, the successful buyer lives in the U. S. - the article says that the painting will cross the Atlantic as a result of the sale.

*Buyer's premium included

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Beauford's Abstraction Sells at Skinner Auction in Boston

A few weeks ago, Kathy Wong - Specialist, American & European Works of Art Skinner, Inc. - contacted Les Amis to inform me of the impending sale of a beautiful Beauford Delaney abstract at auction on May 16, 2014. I immediately asked about publishing a blog post about the painting and any back story associated with it. The consignor of the painting (who wishes to remain anonymous) shared the following:

Signed and dated "Beauford Delaney 1969" l.r.
Identified on a label from Galerie Darthea Speyer, Paris,
affixed to the backing.
Gouache on paper, sight size 25 3/4 x 19 1/2 in. (65.4 x 49.5 cm), framed
Image courtesy of Skinner
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

My ex-husband was a stringer for Time Magazine in London in 1973. He was assigned an article about African-American expats in Europe, and I was lucky enough to go along for the ride to Paris, the French Riviera, and Switzerland. He interviewed Beauford Delaney, Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, and many others on that assignment.

Mr. Delaney was in a difficult phase in his life, and was to be institutionalized fairly shortly after we met him. We took him to dinner and enjoyed a long wonderful evening of stories and anecdotes about the contrast of life in the US and France for African Americans. We walked him back to his attic in Montparnasse and climbed the 5 or 6 stories with him to be sure he was safely home.

As we turned to leave he reached into a stack of rolled up drawings and handed one to me. That's when we both determined to acquire more of his work and support him as much as we could.

Of course, we were very young and unable to afford even the low cost of his paintings then, but it remained a dream and we did, along the way, buy several pieces, including the lovely gouache I'm selling, and a portrait of James Baldwin along with a few others that belong to my ex. I still have the charcoal drawing.

Signature for Abstraction
Image courtesy of Skinner
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

At the time we were told of the painting I'm selling, in the mid 1990's, we would have bought anything by Delaney.

As I mentioned earlier, the French government had been holding his work in probate for many years, and there was nothing on the market. The Studio Museum of Harlem had a wonderful retrospective of his work in 1978, the year before he died, and we began discussions with the museum to buy one of the large landscapes from that exhibit. Then Mr. Delaney died and France stepped in and our negotiations ground to a slow and agonizing halt.

It was at least a decade before there was any chance of getting a piece by him. We eventually got the small gouache in the mid 90's and I was happy for the chance of having a Delaney after all that time.

I adore the painting. It is always a patch of sunlight wherever it is hung, and brightens everything in the room.

Abstraction was made available for sale as Lot 627 during Skinner Auction American & European Works of Art - 2728B in Boston on May 16th. It sold for $11,685, buyer's premium* included. The estimated sale price was $5,000-7,000.

*At auction, there are two prices--the hammer price, or the price at which the item sells during the auction, and the price with the buyer's premium. All auction houses have a buyer's premium that the buyer pays to the auction house on top of the hammer price. Skinner's premium is 23% for sales up to and including $100,000.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

James LeGros Remembers Beauford - Part 2

In Part 1 of James LeGros Remembers Beauford, I presented Jim's recollections of his first meeting with Beauford, Beauford's visits to his home in Vélizy, and his thoughts about Beauford's personality and his habits. In Part 2, I share information that Jim provided about Beauford's tutelle - the guardianship that the City of Paris created to protect Beauford's interests when he was a patient at Sainte-Anne's Hospital.

Profile of Beauford Delaney
- detail
Multiple images
1973 Acrylic on canvas
© James K. LeGros
Image by Discover Paris!

Jim was one of seven persons selected by the City of Paris to participate in a tutelle - an official guardianship formed to look after Beauford's person and affairs when he was committed to Sainte-Anne's Hospital. He received a letter from the Mairie of the 14th arrondissement, dated 9 January 1976, inviting him to participate in a meeting to be convened at the Mairie on January 26 for the purpose of establishing the guardianship.

This was a "command performance" - the group being formed was permanent and those selected to participate would have been fined had they missed this meeting without an appropriate excuse.

Tutelle invitation letter
© Discover Paris!

Mairie of the 14th arrondissement
© Discover Paris!

Jim recalls that of the the remaining six persons in the tutelle, he knew only James Baldwin and Bernard Hassell well. He had a passing acquaintance with Ahmed Bioud and Darthea Speyer, and only met Burt Reinfrank and Solange du Closel at this first meeting.

Jim was named as Beauford's subrogé-tuteur, or surrogate guardian. His role was to defend Beauford's interests in the event that the guardians of his person (Bernard Hassell) and his belongings (James Baldwin) ever acted in a way that was counter to Beauford's best interests.

Two days after the meeting on January 26, Jim received a letter stating that Beauford's dossier had been transferred to the Mairie of the 5th arrondissement because this was where Bernard Hassell lived.

Beauford was able to stay in Sainte-Anne's because Solange du Closel enrolled him in a health care program for artists. Jim would visit him there several times during the four years that he lived there. He saw his friend's mental and physical capacity slowly slip away.

In March 1978, a year before Beauford died, the hospital sent Jim a letter expressing their grave concern about Beauford's declining health.

Letter to James LeGros from Sainte-Anne's Hospital
© Discover Paris!

Jim continued to visit Beauford after his friend no longer recognized him and even after Beauford fell into a state of semi-consciousness. He recalls being ushered to Beauford's room by a nurse on one of these visits to find a photographer snapping multiple photos of an unaware Beauford. The whereabouts of the photographer and these photos remain unknown.

On March 27, 1979, Sainte-Anne's addressed a letter to Jim to inform him of Beauford's death the day before.

Letter to James LeGros announcing Beauford's death
© Discover Paris!

Jim was the only member of the tutelle to attend Beauford's funeral and burial.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Rachel Cohen's Tribute to Beauford

Rachel Cohen is a writer and a professor at Sarah Lawrence College. She contacted me a few weeks ago in anticipation of her reading from her book A Chance Meeting and the discussion about Beauford and James Baldwin that was scheduled for the New York Live Arts Festival in April. She wrote a wonderful article about Beauford's work on her blog called Abstraction and Eyes, which inspired me to ask her for the following interview:

Les Amis: What inspired you to include Beauford in your book?

R. C.: For my book, I knew I wanted to include chapters about James Baldwin, a writer who has had a strong influence on me since I studied him carefully when I was a first-year student at college. But I was having trouble finding ways to write about Baldwin, so complex in life and on the page. I read the biography of James Baldwin by David Leeming, and that was where I first encountered Delaney. Leeming makes clear what a profound influence Delaney had on Baldwin, and also tells the incredible story of Leeming driving Delaney to meet Baldwin in Istanbul – something wonderfully vivid about the relations among all three of those men comes across in that book. After I read those accounts, I knew that to write well about James Baldwin, I needed to show him in relation to Delaney. Gradually, as I read, I got more and more interested in Delaney himself, and I also learned a huge amount from Leeming’s book on Delaney, Amazing Grace.

Cover of Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney

Les Amis: What (if anything) was so compelling about him that you included him in two chapters?

R. C.: The book is structured so that each figure appears in at least two chapters – it was important to me to find a way to convey the different aspects of people that come forward in different situations and with different company. Biography tends to present tight, overly-consistent pictures of people, and I thought that changing juxtapositions would open up new perspectives. I wrote about Delaney with James Baldwin and also with W.E. B. Du Bois, two very different people, who meant very different things to Delaney, and I hoped that would allow me to show both the tender and interior person he was able to be with Baldwin, and the more mystifying, solitary figure he presented in the world of African-American intellectuals and artists that he traveled in. One way that Beauford Delaney was different than some of the other figures I wrote about was that for him it wasn’t just difficult, but really almost impossibly painful, to try to hold these different aspects of himself together.

Les Amis: When did you first come to know about Beauford’s art?

R. C.: I learned about it first from reading. One of my friends, the poet and artist John Jay Frazier, had seen The Color Yellow show and had the catalog, and I studied that, and looked at what works I could. John read the chapters I had written about Delaney when I was done and that was a great help.

Les Amis: Have you seen many of his works in person?

R. C.: No, sadly, I haven’t. The two big shows in recent years, in Minneapolis and New York, both came after I’d published my book, and I wasn’t able to get to either of them. That was a really wonderful thing about the recent experience of presenting on Baldwin and Delaney at the Live Arts Festival, “The Fire This Time!” – we were on stage with two wonderful paintings – the portrait of James Baldwin in yellow from 1965, and a painting from the Rosa Parks series. In person, the paintings are alive in an extraordinary way – you can feel the movement in the paint, and you can also feel a lot of touching and interesting elements in the atmosphere – the background of the Rosa Parks painting seemed to me saturated in memories of the South, and of Knoxville, where Beauford Delaney grew up.

Portrait of James Baldwin
Oil on canvas
25.5 x 21.25 inches
Signed and dated lower left
Image courtesy of Levis Fine Art
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Two Women on a Bench
Oil on canvas
21.25 x 25 inches
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Les Amis: I am intrigued by your focus on eyes in your recent blog post about Beauford. Please give me your comments about the following post on the Les Amis blog: You've Got the Eye.

R. C.: This is a very interesting post – there is clearly something about the eyes in Delaney’s work that many of us want to try to get at! I think your point about the asymmetries in the Delaney self-portraits is perceptive. In most portraits, the two eyes of the sitter will look quite different – an artist friend of mine once explained to me that otherwise the effect when you look at the painting is that the pair of eyes are following you – but I think you’re right that this is extremely pronounced in Delaney’s case and seems to suggest something about what he thought people could see and understand of the world, and how well they could be seen by others.

Les Amis: Do you have a preference between Beauford’s portraits and his abstract works? If so, why?

R. C.: I like both the kinds of works very much. An interesting thing that came out in the discussion at the Live Arts Panel was when Diedra Harris-Kelley, of the Romare Bearden Foundation and herself a painter, insisted that it was a mistake to make a strong distinction between the so-called “realistic” portraits and the abstract paintings. She said that in both kinds of work Delaney is concerned with edges and areas of color. I said that I had found helpful the words of the French critic Jean Guichard-Meili, who described Delaney’s painting in terms of “convection.” I said that maybe this consistent concern with the movement of paint, whether in realistic portraits or abstract paintings, was in some way analogous to the way James Baldwin’s prose moves, whether in the more political essays, or in the more imaginative fiction.

Les Amis: Would you consider the chapters in your book to be a tribute to Beauford and his work? If so, in what way?

R. C.: Certainly, but it is maybe more important to me that the book as a whole is a tribute to ideas about love and friendship that Delaney and Baldwin believed in and lived in their relationship to each other. Delaney wrote in his journal that “love when unimpeded realizes the miraculous.” Throughout my book, I wanted to show moments where a depth of understanding or generosity, found in the company of other people, helped writers and artists to do the work that mattered most to them.

Les Amis: Any final thoughts?

R. C.: Only that when I started writing about Delaney, more than fifteen years ago, I never would have thought that I’d have the chance to sit with two of his paintings and talk about his life and work with David Leeming, whose books I so much admire. Both Baldwin and Delaney were very present in that room. For me it was as if I had been writing toward them for a long time and it was a great privilege to get that close to their presences.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

James LeGros Remembers Beauford - Part 1

Several days ago, I had the great pleasure of spending the afternoon with one of Beauford's dearest friends, James K. (Jim) LeGros. Jim is a painter who came to Paris in the 1950s and studied at the Académie Julian under the G. I. Bill. Over coffee, cornbread, and fig preserves, he, his granddaughter Maud, and I talked about life in Paris after the Second World War, what it means to be an artist, and of course, Beauford.

Portrait Beauford Delaney
(1972) Pastel on Paper
© James K. LeGros

Jim was introduced to Beauford by their mutual friend, Larry Calcagno. Beauford lived in a room on the top floor of the Hôtel des Ecoles in Montparnasse at the time. Jim remembers Beauford as wearing a long robe with decorated sleeves and having his hair slicked back, which gave him an exotic appearance. Though there was a great difference in their ages, Jim and his wife Bunny (now deceased) would become two of Beauford's greatest friends.

Jim and Bunny moved into a large home in the Paris suburb of Vélizy in 1959. It is bordered on two sides by woods and a huge pond called the "Etang d'Ecrivisses." Because of these idyllic surroundings, Beauford began to refer to Jim and Bunny as "the dear friends in the country."

The LeGros house
© Discover Paris!

In Beauford's time, Vélizy was much less developed than it is now. The road between the pond and the rear of the house had not yet been paved and the pond had not been "gentrified."

Woods and pond behind the LeGros house
© Discover Paris!

Beauford visited so frequently that the LeGros designated a room on the first floor just for him. Jim painted the portrait shown above as Beauford sat on the living room couch - the same couch that I sat upon when I conducted my interview with Jim!

Jim acknowledged Beauford's beatific image as portrayed in David Leeming's biography Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney. He affirmed that Beauford was quite gentle and never spoke ill of others. He said that the French described him as "doux," which translates into "soft" or "sweet" in English.

But he would not go so far as to call Beauford a "saint." He was well aware of Beauford's frailties, particularly regarding his consumption of alcohol. He talked a bit about Beauford's night life, saying that Beauford would often "just be getting started" with his socializing at 1 AM or 2 AM and that he frequented several private clubs that one could not enter without "knowing the right people." He said that Beauford had incredible stamina, not only with regard to walking (Beauford's walking feats were legendary and Jim could not keep up with him), but also with regard to drinking. Beauford's alcohol consumption seriously undermined his health and caused him to be hospitalized on more than one occasion.

Jim said that Beauford had a profound effect on people. He spoke of his first solo art exhibit that took place in 1963 at La Case d'Arts, a gallery located at 3 / 3 bis, rue des Beaux Arts in the 6th arrondissment (now Galerie Loft La Case d'Arts). Beauford attended the opening. Jim laughingly said that even though it was his show, Beauford was the center of attention there!

Beauford and James LeGros (center)
Image courtesy of James K. LeGros

Jim described Beauford's hands, saying that Beauford had long, "spatula-like" fingers. He said that Beauford would often touch people gently with his forefinger and middle finger to emphasize a point. He said that when Beauford touched you, "You were touched!"

Though Jim and Beauford were active artists, they rarely spoke to each other about their work. When Beauford did remark about Jim's art, it was to comment that Jim could increase the amount of light in his workspace if he would cover the surfaces with sheets and newspaper.

Jim said that Beauford's conversation was primarily philosophical - he preferred to discuss his observations on life and on human behavior. Jim recalled a conversation that he had with Beauford when he accompanied Beauford to a dentist's office in rue Saint-Denis. The two men observed a woman who was feeding pigeons nearby. Beauford remarked "If only we knew what these pigeons know..." referring to the fact that the birds knew how to be fed without having to struggle or come up with their own resources. Jim observed that Beauford's existence somewhat mirrored that of the pigeons - he was frequently "taken care of" by others, whether that meant being invited for a meal or receiving a gift of cash, clothing, or art supplies.

Jim was one of seven persons selected by the City of Paris to participate in a tutelle - an official guardianship formed to look after Beauford's affairs when he was committed to Sainte-Anne's Hospital. In fact, Jim was named as Beauford's subrogé-tuteur, or surrogate guardian. His role was to defend Beauford's interests in the event that the guardians of his person (Bernard Hassell) and his belongings (James Baldwin) ever acted in a way that was counter to Beauford's best interests.

In Part 2 of this article, look for additional information about the tutelle.