Beauford Delaney

1901–1979

When Joseph Delaney died in 1991, his estate included works of his brother, Beauford, which he had bought from the French government by paying the debts owed and the shipping costs. A portion of those paintings came to UT under Joseph Delaney’s will that provided the university with a unique collection of art done by the two brothers.

Unlike Joseph, Beauford Delaney had a mentor—Knoxvillian and UT alumnus Lloyd Branson, known primarily for his portraits and his “Negro folk pictures.” Branson hired Delaney as a porter for his Gay Street studio in exchange for art lessons. In 1924 Branson arranged to send him to art school in Boston. In Boston, Delaney studied at the South Boston School of Art and took evening classes at the Copley Society from 1924 to 1929. In 1930 he went to New York, and Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and W. C. Handy, among others, sat for him. In New York he began to paint vivid landscapes—primarily of Greenwich Village scenes.

In the early 1940s Delaney met James Baldwin, with whom he became very close. Baldwin started a novel based on Delaney’s life (A Higher Place) but died before finishing it. Arthur Miller wrote the essay “The Amazing and Invariable Beauford Delaney” after Delaney painted his portrait. Delaney left for Europe in 1953 and took up residence in Paris.

As a child he had “heard voices.” As they returned and grew in intensity, his paintings became increasingly abstract. He was able to hide his problem for some time, more easily perhaps because of living a Bohemian and homosexual lifestyle, but in the mid-1970s he was institutionalized for severe paranoia. French authorities declared his friend, James Baldwin, his legal guardian. Delaney died in St. Anne’s hospital in 1979 without a will. To settle his debts, the French government gathered everything in his apartment. A committee, led by Baldwin, governed his estate for a time but was then supplanted by the French government from whom his brother, Joseph, bought some of his effects and paintings.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Beauford Delaney
  • Coverage 1901–1979
  • Author
  • Keywords Beauford Delaney
  • Website Name Volopedia
  • Publisher University of Tennessee Libraries
  • URL
  • Access Date September 27, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 6, 2018