Les Amis de Beauford Delaney is partnering with the Wells International Foundation (WIF) to take the Beauford Delaney: Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition to the U.S.!

We value your support!

(All or part of your gift through WIF may qualify as a charitable deductible in the U.S.)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Figurative Works at Swann Auction Galleries' October 2017 Sale

Eight Beauford Delaney works are available for purchase during Swann Auction Galleries' Autumn 2017 sale of African-American Fine Art: three portraits, one landscape, and four abstracts.

The figurative works are presented below:

Greenhouse at Yaddo (Lot 25) is a rare work on paper from Beauford's New York years in that it is a pastel that is not a portrait. Beauford gave to his friend, poet May Swenson.

Greenhouse at Yaddo
(1950) Color pastels on wove paper
457x610 mm; 18x24 inches.
Signed, dated and inscribed "Yaddo" in pastel, lower right.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Beauford met Swenson during a two-month fellowship at Yaddo in September 1950. Biographer David A. Leeming describes his work from that period as "... paintings that, although still containing figurative elements, were much more abstract than anything he had done before."

Greenhouse at Yaddo is part of a private collection. Its estimated value is $15,000 - $25,000.

Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man) (Lot 16) and Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man in Suit and Tie) (Lot 17) are part of a private collection. Both were obtained from Beauford's brother, Joseph.

Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man)
(circa 1937-40) Color pastels on pale green, textured wove paper
625x480 mm; 24 1/2x18 7/8 inches.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man in Suit and Tie)
(circa 1940) Color pastels on pale gray wove paper
600x468 mm; 23 1/2x18 3/8 inches.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

These portraits are similar to works that Beauford created throughout the 1930s, beginning with his pastel and charcoal portraits of dancers at Billy Pierce's Dancing Studio on West 46th Street. The publicity that he received for these works led him to approach the Whitney Studio Galleries about showing them - which they did.

The estimated value of each portrait is $7,000 - $10,000.

The final figurative work is yet another portrait.

Portrait of a Bearded Young Man Reading
(1971-72) Oil on linen canvas
647x546 mm; 25 1/2x21 1/4 inches.
Signed and dated "1972" in pencil, lower left.
Signed and dated "1971" in pencil, lower right.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Portrait of a Bearded Young Man Reading (Lot 75) dates from Beauford's Paris years. It is part of a private collection and bears two signatures and dates. The owner obtained this work from Beauford's niece, Ogust Delaney Stewart.

Beauford visited James Baldwin in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a hilltop town in southern France with a view of the Mediterranean Sea, in 1971 and 1972. Perhaps the blues and greens in the background of this painting represent that view.

The estimated value of Portrait of a Bearded Young Man Reading is $7,000 - $10,000.

To see images of the other Beauford Delaney paintings being offered at this sale, click HERE.

The auction will take place at 2:30 PM on Thursday, October 5, 2017. Preview dates are as follows: September 30 from 12-5 PM; October 2 to 4, 10 AM to 6 PM; October 5, 10 AM - noon.

For more information, contact Nigel Freeman at

Next week: the abstracts...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Beauford at the Tate Modern

One of Beauford's many portraits of James Baldwin is on display at the Tate Modern. It is part of the exhibition entitled Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.

Portrait of James Baldwin
(1971) Oil on canvas
Bequest of James Baldwin
Image courtesy of Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

The Tate Modern is promoting the exhibition as follows:

Soul of a Nation shines a bright light on the vital contribution of Black artists to a dramatic period in American art and history.

Beauford's portrait hangs in Section 9, which is entitled "Black Heroes." It is on loan from Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries.

The information card for the portrait is shown below.

Image courtesy of M. Herron

I wrote about this portrait in 2013 in the last of four segments of an article on the Beauford Delaney collection at Clark Atlanta University. Patricia Sue Canterbury, curator of the solo exposition entitled Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris that was mounted by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2004, comments on the painting in that article.

Note: The information card and the 2013 Les Amis article both indicate that there is some doubt as to whether this portrait represents Baldwin.

Soul of a Nation is on display through October 22, 2017. For more information, visit the Tate Modern's Web site.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Greece, 1967: Into the Blue

by Hanna Gressler

(1967) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Beauford believed that abstraction was the purest form of art. His philosophy is evident in his painting, Greece (Grèce in French), where shape, form, and color become intertwined to create a new world and a new sense of being. The first time I encountered this painting, my mind was immediately engulfed by the intense blue and sporadic color of white that carried me into a new experience of nature.

Eventually, I learned about Beauford’s suicide attempt on a boat to Greece in 1961, which led him to be institutionalized for the first time. Although the painting, Greece, was created six years after the incident, Beauford was troubled by mental illness all his life and the painting may speak of a continuing desire to achieve a sense of unity in oneself and with the world.

The blue of the ocean is all-encompassing. By looking at this painting, you dive into the deep blue and the shifting waves that take you someplace new. The more your eyes drift upward, the lighter the blue becomes as white patches of color become more frequent, and it seems as if the ocean has gradually turned into the sky. Between these blue and white swirls of color lies a horizon filled with more blue – a new world where nature and its colors are intertwined with one another, almost indistinguishable.

And as you stare more closely into this horizon, you become immersed into its everlasting world, where all nature is one and you are one with nature. In this world, the soul transcends the body through this experience of the intense blue of the ocean and the sky, their bodies interlaced, shifting into one another, becoming united.

However, the dark blue of the ocean and its oscillating waves also contain a certain chaos and danger. This new world we are entering is unfamiliar territory. By becoming one with nature, we are unraveling the folds of our body and mind, revealing the darkness within ourselves. Looking into the painting, we are confronted by our deepest desires and fears. If we allow ourselves to be drowned by the heavy blue and chaotic waves, there is no certainty that we will come back. Suddenly, the horizon between the ocean and the sky becomes a bottomless hole that pulls us inward. There is a darkness that lies beyond this world, which we may not be strong enough to confront.

Now, the image of becoming united with nature suggests the necessity for death. The indistinguishable shapes and forms of the painting portray a spectacle of nature, where every body is part of another and another, and together they create one mesmerizing and engulfing world of chaotic nature. It is only through death may return to this nature and nourish the next generation of life.

Whether Beauford jumped into the ocean in order to escape life and become united with nature will never be known. But Greece expresses a yearning for unity – with oneself, with those around us, with nature – despite the darkness that it involves, because it may be only through this way that we achieve peace.

Hanna Gressler is a senior at the American University of Paris. She served as a 2017 summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

What Hides Behind the Unusual Door: Metaphor or Song?

Lord, I was to hear Beauford sing, later, and for many years,
open the unusual door. My running buddy had sent me
to the right one, and not a moment too soon.”

- The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction,
James Baldwin, 1948-1985

Dark Rapture (a portrait of James Baldwin)
(1941) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

In his collection of nonfiction stories spanning over 40 years, the writer James Baldwin recalls his close friend and mentor, Beauford Delaney, singing the phrase, “Lord, open the unusual door.” Today, there exists the question of whether Beauford was singing a verse of a song or whether the phrase is a metaphor that holds a certain truth to the artist. Since Baldwin recalls hearing Beauford sing the phrase “for many years,” it can be understood that the phrase was particular to Beauford and perhaps reflected an artistic philosophy. In my research to answer this question of song or metaphor, I stumbled upon articles highlighting the friendship between Baldwin and Beauford, who found artistic inspiration in each other. However, the origin of the phrase remains unknown, given the source of “old song.” This type of source allows for many interpretations: the phrase could have come from a song Beauford’s mother used to sing to him, or maybe from a prayer he learnt, or it could be a vision he was trying to express.

My research brought me to analyses of Beauford’s perception of the world and the important influence this perception had on Baldwin’s writing and his own view of reality. The image of opening an unusual door implies entering into an unfamiliar environment, one that leads to a new confrontation with reality. This idea is reflected in Beauford’s art and his belief that abstraction is the purest form of art. The artist looked beyond the world in front of us and found the light within the mundane. This required him to see with a different eye, to enter a new dimension.

In an interview for a Spanish literary journal in 1987, Baldwin recounted the start of his artistic life, which was shaped by Beauford’s perception of reality: “We were stopped at a street corner waiting for the traffic light to change, and Beauford pointed down and said, ‘Look.’ I looked and all I saw was water. But he insisted: ‘Look again.’ Which I did, and I saw oil in the water and the city reflected in the puddle. For me this was a revelation. Which cannot be explained. He taught me to see, and to trust what I saw. Often it is painters who show writers how to see. And once you’ve had this experience, you see in a different mode.”* This reality of seeing allowed the artists to discover that light is contained in every surface and being. By passing through the “unusual door,” we become one with ourselves and the world around us. However, this new reality is not yet entirely known to us, and we may find in it something we did not want to discover.

In his article, “Open the Unusual Door: Visions from the Dark Window in Yuref Komunyakaa’s Early Poems,” Ed Pavlić compares the poet Komunyakaa’s image of the dark window with Beauford’s image of the unusual door, both of which must open in order to reveal a hidden truth about ourselves and the world we inhabit. In the author’s interpretation of the phrase, “Lord, open the unusual door,” Beauford describes a type of distance from reality that leads to a new form of presence. This unfamiliarity gives rise to a newfound intimacy with not only oneself, but the world around one as well. This sense of unfamiliarity is integral in the process of artistic expression because it forces one to step back from the world and find a new light where there once was only the darkness of the unknown. In this way, the artist not only pushes the boundaries of his mind, but of the world as well, creating new realities into which the artist may escape and find freedom.

Furthermore, Pavlić links the phrase to a modernist sense of creativity in which the artist has a transfiguring presence. This modernist sense of creativity involves an exploration of psychic interiors that resists conventional reasoning and enters into a modern dissociation of sensibility. As a result, they transform into versions of a kind of non-identical identity. “Lord, open the unusual door” calls for the discovery of the images that lie on the other side of the door, which will reveal the unconscious - images in the psyche that may reflect the artistic process of Beauford’s abstract paintings. However, according to the Pavlić’s analysis, opening the unusual door reveals a self that is not itself: “As it was for Baldwin, the creative process is centered in a world of transmuted, transmuting, presence which disrupts prepackaged meaning received through ideology, power, or simply laziness and the seductive inertia of habit. In Komynyakaa’s thought, this kind of presence is rooted in contradiction” – specifically in relation to racial identity, and other senses of self.

The image of the unusual door opening to another dimension where the psyche can move freely and transform, suggests that this door leads to lost or remote, but powerful, dimensions of the self that can come alive through art. In his paintings, it is clear that Beauford viewed the world with a different eye, one where the light in every body unites you with the world. Art allowed him to open that unusual door into this new dimension, but what lies there is unknown and unfamiliar, and there may be no way back.

*Elgrably, Jordan. “A traves del fuego: entrevista con James Baldwin.” Quimera: Revista de literature 41. (September 1984): 22.

Hanna Gressler is a rising senior at the American University of Paris. She is serving as a 2017 summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.