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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection

Composition Bleu

Composition Bleu
signed, inscribed and dated ‘Beauford Delaney 68 Rue Paul Couturier Clamart Siene 60’ (on the reverse); titled and dated again ‘Composition Bleu 1960’ (on a panel affixed to the stretcher)
oil on canvas
51 x 38 1/4 in. (129.5 x 97.1 cm.)
Painted in 1960.
The artist
Galerie Paul Facchetti, Paris
Paul Facchetti, Paris
Bruno Facchetti, Paris
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Further details
A striking example of Beauford Delaney’s celebrated later work, Composition Bleu is redolent of the light and promise he found upon moving to Paris in the 1950s. Remarkable for its Abstract Expressionist tendencies that eschewed vigorous machismo in favor of a more natural, effervescent energy, this canvas in particular portrays the painter’s search for a better understanding of life through art. Art historian Richard J. Powell explains, “[He] sought in his work and throughout his entire life to experience that state of perfect bliss in nature and society, to reach that nearly unattainable note or apogée of emotional discernment in the arts, and to know that ecstatic feeling of ‘excessive and deliberate joy’ in life.” (R. J. Powell, Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow, exh. cat., Atlanta, High Museum of Art, 2002). Coming of age as a African-American artist during the Great Depression, Delaney struggled to stay true to himself and often depicted the disenfranchisement he felt in society. While he began as a figurative artist, the introduction of non-representational abstraction into his practice further freed his hand to fully examine the connections between painting and life.

Rendered primarily in tones of white and blue, Delaney’s composition swirls in painterly motions that cover the entire canvas. However, beneath the snowy surface layer, tinges of red, darker blue, and even green peer through and add a subtle depth to the painting. Far from his more somber figurative paintings, Composition Bleu vibrates with the energy of life in France and the thrill of creating new expressive work in a style that allowed the artist more emotive freedom than he had had previously. "The abstraction, ostensibly, is simply for me the penetration of something that is more profound in many ways than rigidity of a form,” he noted in a conversation with Richard A. Long. “A form, if it breathes some, if it has some enigma to it, is also the enigma that is the abstract." (B. Delaney, quoted in Richard A. Long, et al., Beauford Delaney: A Retrospective, New York, The Studio Museum in Harlem, 1978). Moving beyond representational forms, Delaney’s progression into purely abstract canvases helped to more fully realize his artistic ideals.

There was a window in Beauford’s house in Clamart before which he often sat … This window looked out on a garden. . . And this window was a kind of universe, moaning and wailing when it rained, black and bitter when it thundered, hesitant and delicate with the first light of morning, and as blue as the blues when the last light of sun departed. Well, that life, that light, that miracle, are what I began to see in Beauford’s paintings …James Baldwin

Born in Tennessee to a large Christian family, Delaney was instilled with a love of art and music from an early age. He left home in 1923 and, after attending art school for several years in Boston, moved to Harlem in 1929. As he arrived, the Harlem Renaissance was declining and the Great Depression left many people in poverty. Feeling a connection with the many diverse populations in New York, he often featured the marginalized people he saw in the city. Works like Can Fire in the Park (1946) show sobering scenes of life at the time that prominently feature African-American subjects. However, far from a realist sensibility, Delaney’s paintings from this period embrace bright colors and thick brushwork that lend a vibrant energy to otherwise dark images of despair. During this time, the artist also began spending time with the cultural avant-garde present in Greenwich Village where he became associated with artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and Willem de Kooning, and musicians like Louis Armstrong. Among the most important of these connections was his friendship with the writer James Baldwin who looked up to Delaney and sat for his portrait several times throughout the course of their acquaintance.

In 1953, Delaney left New York and settled in Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life. His expatriation resulted in a near-complete shift in style that traded the earlier figural compositions and urban subjects for a mode of Abstract Expressionism marked by a fascination with light and bright color. Notable in his previous catalogue, the reliance on exciting hues and impasto brushwork continued unabated if not vigorously emphasized. Though he had left the United States, these abstract works connected with the New York School artists and brought an increase in attention from critics and audiences. Nonetheless, the first few years of the artist’s time in Paris were marked by depression as he began drinking and self-isolated. In 1956, Delaney met gallerist Paul Facchetti, who is often credited with being one of the first people to truly introduce Abstract Expressionism to Europe. Impressed with Delaney’s work, Facchetti gave him an exhibition that signaled a pivotal moment in the artist’s career. "The chance to begin again came from Paul Facchetti, who had bought several of [Delaney's] paintings and now offered him a solo exhibition in May. Facchetti's invitation and the immense amount of work it involved distracted the painter's mind somewhat from his loneliness and his depression." (D. Leeming, Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, London, 1998, p. 142). His first solo exhibition with Facchetti was in 1960, and it is from this show that the present example hails. Signaling a momentous shift in his life and oeuvre, it shows a dexterous hand attuned to the dynamic energy of the creative impulse.

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