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Remembering World-Renowned Painter, Beauford Delaney

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Beauford Delaney, a world-renowned painter, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on December 30, 1901, to Samuel Delaney, a barber and Methodist minister, and Delia Johnson Delaney, a seamstress born of slave parents. They had ten kids. Two of the sons, including Joseph Delaney, were painters. Beauford attended the city’s racially segregated Austin High School.

During his adolescence, Knoxville’s well-known Impressionist artist Enoch Lloyd Branson discovered Delaney’s diverse painting and drawing abilities. Delaney had completed his first commissioned painting by the age of 14 by 1915. Delaney was encouraged to leave the south for Boston, Massachusetts, in 1923, after working as an apprentice for Branson, to study at the Massachusetts Normal School (now the South Boston School of Art) and take evening classes at the Copley Society, where he studied Classical art informally. Delaney made money in Boston by painting portraits on street corners.

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Delaney moved to New York City in 1929 to join the Harlem Renaissance, where he established himself as a Modernist abstract painter. He used thick-coated paint on a regular basis and experimented with bright colors. Delaney was also one of the artists in the show “Four Sunday Painters,” which was held at the Whitney Studio Galleries shortly after his arrival in the city in 1929. His first one-person exhibition, however, took place in 1930 at the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library in Harlem (now the Schomburg Center). Five years later, in 1935, Delaney was a part of the Works Progress Administration-sponsored mural project at Harlem Hospital (WPA).

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He traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1938, for another one-person exhibition at a gallery. His work was published in Life magazine on October 1, 1930, in a section titled “Their Artists are Gaining in Skill and Recognition.”

“Can Fire in the Park,” Delaney’s most well-known oil canvas painting, was completed in 1946. In 1948, he established an art studio in New York’s Greenwich Village, where he became famous for his pastel portraits of W. E. B. Du Bois and Duke Ellington. Delaney established herself as a fixture in the gay (now LGBTQA) bohemian community. At the same time, he kept a low profile in the black community. He made James Baldwin, a writer and activist, his godson and financially and emotionally protected him.

Delaney was awarded a fellowship to the Yaddo Art Colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1951. However, the following year, at the age of 52, he boarded the steamship Liberté bound for Paris, France. There, he incorporated Vincent Van Gogh’s techniques and used abstract expressionism design principles to further develop his style. By the late 1960s, he was able to support himself financially for the first time by selling his paintings and receiving a grant from the National Council of the Arts in 1969.

Delaney traveled by train to Brindisi, Italy, and then by ferry to Patras, Greece, in 1971. His increased drinking caused him to hear “voices.” It also contributed to his physical and mental deterioration. After having a nervous breakdown, he was taken to an Athens hospital until a friend brought him back to Paris and committed him to the Centre Hospitalier Sainte Anne.

Beauford Delaney died on March 26, 1979, at the Centre Hospitalier Sainte Anne in Paris, France. He was 79.

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Written by How Africa News

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