Les Amis de Beauford Delaney is supporting the completion of


the first full-length documentary about Beauford.

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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Capturing the Shock of Life

In Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, biographer David Leeming says that in June 1958, Beauford began experimenting with the use of color to convey his inner life, moving toward "a more expressionist use of painting to represent the inner turmoil..." He quotes a letter dated June 24, 1958 in which Beauford said that the "constant gray here creates a marvelous setting in the mind for color" and another letter dated August 22, 1958 in which he said that it is "difficult to capture the shock of life - it's a thing of magic and not technique..."

Today I'm sharing images of some of Beauford's abstracts from 1958 that seem representative of this state of mind.

Untitled (Green Drip Abstraction)
(1958) Gouache on wove paper
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Untitled (Yellow Abstraction)
(c. 1958-1959) Oil on paper, laid down on canvas
Image courtesy of Aaron Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney,
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Untitled (Abstract composition)
(1958) Oil on wove paper
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Clamart Red
(1958) Oil on canvas
On loan from a private collection
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Even during this period, Beauford did not abandon his search for "inner light" through the creations of predominantly yellow paintings such as the one represented below.


(c.1958) Oil on canvas
signed and dated
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator
Image courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Beauford and the Flapper Girl

by Maija Brennan

Maija Brennan is the Wells International Foundation's 2019 summer intern. A rising senior at Smith College, she majors in French and art history with a concentration in museum studies. Her eight-week internship focuses on researching the life and art of painter Beauford Delaney and creating an online exhibition of a selection of his works.

Beauford Delaney’s numerous and vastly diverse portraits were not only a way to capture the outer and inner vision of the subject, but also a means for him to express personal thoughts and emotions. During the first formative years of his new life in New York City, which began in 1929, he earned income by drawing portraits of the dancers at Billy Pierce’s Dancing School and the high society women who came through the establishment. These pencil and charcoal drawings reflect the classical training he received during his Boston years, when he learned how to realistically render facial features.

Charcoal of a Black Woman (1929)
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Charcoal of a Black Woman (Flapper Girl) from 1929 is representative of this period in Beauford’s life. This drawing is a profile of a girl adorned in a cloche hat, the headpiece symbolic of flappers from the decade. The term “flapper” was invented during the 1920s to describe a new wave of Western society women who were defying the societal norms and behavior of the era. Flapper girls were characterized by their short dresses and skirts (a departure from the more modest women’s fashion of the 19th century), their short bobbed hair, and their love of jazz music and dancing. Seen as more flamboyant and promiscuous than what was acceptable for women in the past, flappers represented a movement of women taking control of their own autonomy and sexuality.

Flapper Dresses by Lidiqnati
Gold Yellow Dress
FANDOM Community CC-BY-SA license

When we think of depictions of flapper girls today, even in 2019, our minds oftentimes follow this narrative. John Held, a well-known cartoonist during the 1920s, popularized the image that we associate them with in the 21st century: brazen and free-spirited girls dancing with and kissing men. With this in mind, Beauford’s portrait of a flapper girl becomes a thought-provoking one, as its technique and depiction contrast starkly with other illustrations of these women that were being produced at the time.

Delia Delaney's photo of Beauford
Fair use claim

This photograph of a young Beauford Delaney, which belonged to his mother, Delia, creates an interesting juxtaposition with the above portrait. Even at first glance, the physical similarities between Beauford’s profile and those of the flapper girl are apparent. There is no photographic evidence of the woman in the charcoal drawing to compare with this artistic portrayal, but her prominent nose and slightly protruding upper lip bear a striking resemblance to Beauford’s features in Delia’s photograph. One can imagine that he used his own facial profile as a guide for the portrait.

Beauford’s portraits of women are far fewer in number than the ones of men, and while there is no clear reason for why this is, Charcoal of a Black Woman (Flapper girl) provides a platform for an analysis of his sentiments or wariness regarding modern women of his time. In Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, David Leeming writes that Beauford was often concerned or “offended” by his brother’s “excessive interest in women,” believing it would “drain his natural talent.” The opposing sexualities between Beauford and Joseph proved to be a point of contention, as Joe, in the same manner in which his brother didn’t trust women, did not want to associate with Beauford’s queer companions.

Eloise Johnson wrote an article on the concept of the “femme fatale” titled “Out of the Ashes: Cultural Identity and Marginalization in the Art of Beauford Delaney” for Notes in the History of Art. In it, she notes that the 19th century’s notion of promiscuous women, or “femme fatales,” was that they were capable of eroding a man’s natural and creative talents through their allure. It is possible that Beauford was wary of such women, the ones he saw in Joe’s life and in his daily excursions around New York City. Flapper girls were the “femme fatales” of the 1920s, and his portrait of this one may represent a desire to “mute” certain qualities associated with the flapper girl stereotype. Her cloche hat is visible, but that is all the information readable to discern her as a flapper. Her facial features are rather masculine, as noted in the comparison with Delia Delaney’s photograph. She is visible only from the neck up; her fashion choice is not rendered in the illustration. The bright colors Beauford became renowned for in later years were not part of his visual vocabulary at this point in time, yet it is interesting to note that he made the decision to portray this flapper girl in black charcoal, rather than pastels. Such a choice in medium creates more of a somber effect, not what is typically imagined when thinking of the vivacious colors associated with flappers of the 20s. His subject appears immersed in thought, engaged in a moment of stillness from a life of jiving and smoking in jazz clubs.

Beauford’s portrait of a flapper girl from 1929 is a fascinating juxtaposition to the culture and media representations of flappers from the era. Whether a subtle indicator of Beauford’s own sentiments revolving flapper girls, or an attempt to subvert the narrative often associated with them, Charcoal of a Black Woman (Flapper Girl) is meaningful nonetheless in the chronology of his life as an artist and portraitist.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Two Beauford Delaney Works Sold at Separate Auctions in Paris

Beauford's work is appearing more and more frequently in sales at Paris auction houses. On June 12, two of his works were sold at auction - each by a different establishment.

Both works were painted in 1963, the year during which Beauford participated in group shows at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles at the Musée d'Art Moderne and the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, Switzerland. Biographer David Leeming indicates that Beauford wrote to Henry Miller in July 1963, saying that he was "trying to merge color and form into the essences of things felt and remembered."

ADER Nordmann listed Composition, a stunning red and yellow abstract, at its Post War and Contemporary Art sale.

(1963) Oil on canvas
Signed and dated, rear
41 x 33 cm; 16.14 x 12.99 in
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

This painting belonged to Hart Leroy Bibbs, a long-term Paris expatriate who made a name for himself in literature and the visual arts as a poet, actor, painter, sculptor, and photographer.

The estimated sale price for Composition was 10,000€ to 15,000€. It sold for 27,000€ (hammer price) plus an additional 28% for buyer's fees, bringing the total purchase price to 34,560€.

Millon proposed a luminous gouache from a private collection in its Post War & Contemporary Art sale, which began 30 minutes after the ADER sale.

(1963) Gouache on paper
Signed and dated, bottom left
32.5 x 50.3 cm; 12.79 x 19.8 in
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Its estimated price was 6,000€ to 8,000€. It sold for 7,805€, including a 30% buyer's fee.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Beauford Coming to the Nantes Musée d'Arts

On June 7-8, 2019, NYU's Grey Art Gallery is hosting a colloquium in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition entitled Americans in Paris: Artists in the City of Light, 1946-1968, which will be shown at the gallery from September 10 to December 5, 2020 and at the Nantes Musée d'arts from February to May 2021.

Musée d'Arts de Nantes
Creative Commons License BY-SA 3.0

Comprising some 120 works by approximately 20 artists, Americans in Paris will be the first major museum exhibition to feature American artists working in Paris after the Second World War and their influence on contemporary art movements. Co-curators Lynn Gumpert and Debra Bricker Balken plan to include works by Beauford in the show.

The colloquium consists of short talks and informal discussions that address topics including visual arts, literature, and jazz. Among the presentations listed on the agenda, two are directly relevant to Beauford: Valerie Mercer of the Detroit Institute of Arts is speaking on "African-American Artists in Postwar Paris" and Nicholas Boggs of Nicholas Boggs of NYU's English department is speaking on "James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney."

A third presentation is indirectly relevant to Beauford: Natalie Adamson of the University of St. Andrews is speaking on "Sam Francis and Paris in the 1950s." Francis strongly influenced Beauford's first experiments in French abstraction and the two artists' works were displayed in at least two group exhibitions in Paris.

Invitation card for 1973 exhibit at Galerie Darthea Speyer
Courtesy of Galerie Darthea Speyer

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Cannes Film Festival Screening a Success

A major milestone in the creation of Beauford Delaney: So Splendid a Journey* was passed on May 21 when the trailer for the documentary was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. It was shown at the Grey d’Albion Hotel, one of the main screening locations for the Cannes Film Market.

Announcement for screening
Image courtesy of 2 Bulls on the Hill Productions

Producer Zachary Miller of 2 Bulls on the Hill Productions gave presentations and hosted Q&A sessions for two back-to-back showings of the trailer. Two different audiences viewed the trailer, with the first audience leaving the screening room to make way for the second group of viewers. Audience members included representatives of several companies interested in distributing the film once it is completed.

The trailer was well received, and numerous questions were posed after both screenings.

During the festival, a major grant / funding organization that could contribute to the completion of the film requested a meeting with Miller. The result of this encounter, which took place during an event held at Miller's villa in Cannes, was the scheduling of a follow-up meeting to be held in NYC in the coming weeks.

Producer Zachary Miller (center) at Cannes villa celebration
Image courtesy of 2 Bulls on the Hill Productions

The next step in the process for completing So Splendid a Journey is conducting research for information that can support narration to be included in the film. This will take place at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. The Beauford Delaney archive there contains correspondence with colleagues, friends, gallery owners, and family members, as well as printed material documenting Beauford's life in Paris.

Raising funds for completing the full-length documentary remains a priority. An active GoFundMe campaign provides a platform for donations in support of the $20,000 budget for the production. Funds will be used for archival images, music, sound design, editing and other items mentioned in the itemized budget found on the GoFundMe page.

*Beauford Delaney: So Splendid a Journey will be the first full-length documentary about Beauford.