Bohemian Brothers: Beauford and Joseph Delaney

The Delaney brothers became well-known painters in the downtown New York art scene in the 1930s and 40s—while each followed their own distinct artistic path. Sibling artists both finding success in the New York art world is a scarce but not unheard of occurrence, yet there are very few African American visual artist siblings known today, and no other pair quite like Beauford and Joseph Delaney.

Beauford Delaney

Beauford Delaney, Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man), color pastels and charcoal, circa 1930–35. Sold in our October 2016 sale of African-American Fine Art for $5,000.

Beauford Delaney was the older brother, born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on December 30, 1901 to John Samuel and Delia Delaney—one of five siblings. Joseph Samuel Delaney was born on September 13, 1904. Beauford first moved from his native Tennessee to Boston in 1923, before coming to New York in the spring of 1929. The following year, he had his first solo exhibition Exhibit of Portrait Sketches by Beauford Delaney at the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library, which included five pastels and 10 charcoal portraits.

Joseph Delaney

Joseph Delaney, Untitled (Self-Portrait), oil on canvas, circa 1935. Sold in our April 2019 sale of African-American Fine Art for $6,750.

Joseph Delaney moved to New York to join Beauford in 1930 at the age of 26. He soon became a longtime resident of the West Village. He lived with his brother briefly at 241 West 11th Street before relocating. Joseph Delaney also joined his brother at the Art Students League where took lessons with Thomas Hart Benton. In 1932, he exhibited in the first Washington Square Outdoor Art Show, where he continued to work as a sketch artist through the 1960s—drawing portraits in pastels on the spot.

Joseph Delaney, Untitled (Self-Portrait), watercolor, circa 1960. Sold in our April 2019 sale of African-American Fine Art for $3,000.

Joseph Delaney’s Career in New York City

Joseph Delaney, Artist’s Studio Party, oil on canvas, 1940. To be offered in our April 22 sale of African American Art. Estimate $100,000 to $150,000.

From 1934 to 1940, Joseph worked for the WPA on projects in New York City, including the Index of Design for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pier 72 mural, and the Story of the Recorded Word mural with Norman Lewis at the New York Public Library. Delaney lived in various garrets and lofts within a small area of the Village and Soho between 1931 and 1959. In 1940, Delaney lived on Sullivan Street, near West Third Street. Director of the Ewing Gallery of Art and Architecture at the University of Tennessee, Sam Yates believes that this painting was inspired by a party he gave friends earlier at 26 Bond Street. Joseph lived in New York the rest of his life—painting the city and its crowds of people, in particular its parades, from the VJ Day parade in 1945 to the New York Yankees Victory Parade in 1979.

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Beauford Delaney’s Career in New York City

Beauford Delaney, Untitled (Village Street Scene), oil on canvas, 1948. Sold in our April 2018 sale of African-American Fine Art for $557,000.

Beauford became a part of the bohemian Greenwich Village scene, and was friends with writers James Baldwin and Henry Miller, and artists Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keefe, and Al Hirshfeld. By 1938, Beauford enjoyed a certain amount of celebrity after being featured as an artist in a Life magazine article on African Americans—including a large photograph of him seated in front of his paintings at the Washington Square outdoor show. Beauford painted scenes of Greenwich Village that show both his modernist influences and his developing personal voice in New York. Beauford Delaney painted views around his apartment on Greene Street as early as 1940, and often returned to compositions with stylized representations of a manhole cover, fire hydrant and streetlights. Despite his struggles, the Village was the center of the New York avant-garde, and Delaney was relatively free to pursue his bold artistic vision.

Beauford Delaney, Untitled (Tent Interior), color pastels, 1951. To be offered in our April 22 sale of African American Art. Estimate $30,000 to $40,000.

In 1950, Beauford Delaney had a two-month fellowship at Yaddo, the artist and writer’s colony near Sarasota Springs. The freedom and the camaraderie he experienced there increased both his affinity with abstraction and his interest in Paris. In the early 1950s, he did several paintings and pastel drawings that approached complete abstraction. Soon after, Beauford decided to leave New York, and his brother Joseph. Following his dear friend James Baldwin, he immigrated to Paris in 1953 – beginning the second half of his career as an expatriate artist.

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