Portrait of James Baldwin, a radiant and colorful work painted in 1945 by Beauford Delaney (1901-1979), was acquired at a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Thursday, February 21, 1998. The bold and vibrant image, which is exemplary of Delaney's finest work and serves as the artist's pictorial affirmation of the remarkable genius he recognized in his young literary friend, will be installed in the Print Department Foyer on the Museum's first floor from February 20 through March 15. A rare portrait drawing of Delaney by Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) also dating to the 1940s, which was acquired by the Museum in the spring of 1997, will be shown with the Baldwin portrait. O'Keeffe, who seldom worked in portraiture, made several portraits of Delaney, who she admired and described as a "very special sort of person."
"Beauford Delaney was a remarkable and as yet under-recognized painter, and of course the Harlem Renaissance was one of the great cultural flowerings of the 20th century. We are truly thrilled to have for our permanent collections Delaney's Portrait of James Baldwin, a powerful work that speaks to the immense creative contributions of African Americans to the arts. The bold modernism of Delaney's painting is a wonderful addition to the Museum's diverse and striking range of American portraiture, taking its place among portraits by artists such as Thomas Eakins, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Mary Cassatt, Horace Pippin, Georgia O'Keeffe and Chuck Close," stated Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, Delaney was the third of five children born to the Reverend Samuel and Delia Johnson Delaney, prominent and respected members of the city's black community. His skilled draftsmanship already evident while in secondary school, in 1924 he moved to Boston to study art at the Massachusetts Normal School, the South Boston School of Art, and the Copley Society.
By 1929, Delaney had moved to New York, and soon became a central participant in the later years of the Harlem Renaissance, a movement that represented the first concerted effort to express a uniquely black cultural presence in America. He was welcomed into a milieu of writers, musicians and artists who would remain his lifelong friends. The subject of increasing acclaim, the artist was mythologized in "The Amazing and Invariable Beauford Delaney," an essay written by Henry Miller in 1945, the same year that Delaney painted his portrait of Baldwin, and around the time that Delaney sat for his portrait by O'Keeffe.
Delaney's art had a warm reception in Philadelphia, when it was shown in 1947 at the Pyramid Club as part of an exhibition organized with the encouragement of Humbert Howard and Dox Thrash. His circle of friends from Philadelphia included the photographer Dorothy Norman.
Delaney eventually moved to France, joining an extended circle of African American expatriates. Prominent among them was the author James Baldwin (1924-1987), whom Delaney first met in New York in 1941. During his years in France, Baldwin wrote many critically acclaimed and influential books, including Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Notes of a Native Son (1955), Giovanni's Room (1956), Another Country (1962), and The Price of the Ticket (1985). This portrait is one of ten to twelve known images of Baldwin by his friend, and among the earliest, painted when Baldwin was only 21. The Philadelphia Museum of Art also owns a late work by Delaney, Portrait of Marian and Betty (1970), which depicts Philadelphia gallery owner Marion Locks and Betty Taicher Herson, and was given to the Museum by Gene Locks in 1991.
Portrait of James Baldwin is painted in oil on canvas, and measures 22 by 18 inches. It was purchased with funds contributed by The Dietrich Foundation in memory of Joseph C. Bailey, with a grant from The Judith Rothschild Foundation, and with the kind assistance of Marion Boulton Stroud.
Portrait of Beauford Delaney by Georgia O'Keeffe is executed in charcoal on paper and measures 24-3/4 by 18-5/8 inches. It was acquired in 1997 with funds contributed by Marion Boulton Stroud, a gift (by exchange) of Dr. and Mrs. Paul Todd Makler, and a gift of the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation.