Beauford Delaney


Delaney Untitled Michael Rosenfeld Gallery 1500 - © Estate of Beauford Delaney, Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY
  • Beauford Delaney
  • Untitled
  • c. 1958
  • Oil on canvas
  • 76.2 x 63.5 cm
  • Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York - © Estate of Beauford Delaney, Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

The thick, impasto quality of Beauford Delaney’s Untitled (c. 1958) develops the vocabulary of his representational art of earlier decades. The artist’s move from New York City to Paris in 1953 precipitated a corresponding shift in his artistic practice, represented clearly in the swirling, abstract field of color in this painting. Textural brushstrokes in intense, saturated colors had framed his earlier portraits and group subjects. Here, figurative and representational content has been replaced by the suggested movement in the paint itself, which becomes the main language of the work. Released from their supporting role, the free brushstrokes move across the canvas, rejecting any fixed compositional rules.

Working in Paris allowed Delaney, like many African American artists, a critical distance from the New York art scene. Delaney’s work, which resisted categorization throughout his career, drew upon an idiosyncratic mix of influences. Untitled represents the intersection of American abstract expressionism and European tachisme, interpreted through Delaney’s own style and artistic lexicon. The rhythmic texture and lyrical movement of the paint owes much to the artist’s love of jazz and represents a unique contribution to mid-century abstraction.

Caroline Wallace

Biography of Beauford Delaney

  • Born 1901 in Knoxville, TN, USA
  • Died 1979 in Paris, France
A key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, Beauford Delaney apprenticed with painter Lloyd Branson (1853–1925) in Knoxville before beginning his art studies in Boston in 1924. He moved to New York in 1929. He participated in the “306” group of African-American painters led by Charles Alston (1907–1977) in Harlem, but as a gay artist, he also maintained a studio and bohemian circle on Greene Street in Greenwich Village. He depicted the neighborhood in many paintings in the late 1940s. Delaney gained recognition for his portraits of prominent African-Americans, such as Duke Ellington. In 1930 some of these portraits were shown at the Whitney Museum Studio Galleries in New York. During his time in New York Delaney established lifelong friendships with the novelists Henry Miller (1891–1980) and James Baldwin (1924–1987). In 1953 he followed Baldwin to Paris, where he lived for the rest of his life. Delaney suffered mental illness in France but continued to work and exhibit. His art moved from representational pastel portraits and street scenes to completely abstract paintings of an Expressionist manner. Always using thickly applied paint and bright colors, Delaney’s painting style recalled the techniques of the French Fauves and Van Gogh. Shortly before his death, the Studio Museum in Harlem organized his first retrospective.