Beauford Delaney - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips
  • Painted in 1968, Beauford Delaney’s Street Scene (Paris) is an important example of the artist’s late oeuvre completed after his life-defining move to Paris. Swirls of yellow oil paint move across the surface of the canvas, building a heavily impastoed scene of a vibrant cityscape as if seen through a hazy, blinding sunlight. Blurring the boundaries of abstraction and figuration in a manner evocative of such artistic forebears as Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh, Delaney here offers a work that at once harkens back to his street scenes of the 1940s and exemplifies his painterly investigations of color and light.


    Remaining in Delaney’s personal collection and then Estate for decades, Street Scene (Paris) was notably among the works selected for inclusion in the Studio Museum in Harlem’s seminal retrospective in 1978. While Delaney was widely recognized during his lifetime, it has only been very recently that his bold and pioneering oeuvre has gained its due recognition  – due in part to the installation of his painting Composition 16, 1954-1956, in The Museum of Modern Art’s re-hang, as well as a solo exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Knoxville Museum of Art that closed this past October.


    A Decisive Move: From Harlem to Montparnasse 


    Street Scene (Paris) is a quintessential work that Delaney created in Paris, having moved from New York in 1953. Whilst Delaney had established himself as a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance in the decades prior – gaining widespread recognition for pastel portraits of prominent African Americans figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Duke Ellington – he decided at the age of 52 to move to the French capital. It had been on his first trip to Europe that Delaney, originally planning to visit Rome, became so enchanted with the city of Paris that he decided to settle there. His decision to do so, at a time when the center of the art world was clearly shifting to New York City, was largely also driven by a desire to escape racism and homophobia prevalent in the United States. Settling in the bohemian enclave of Montparnasse, as Jake Cigainero observed in The New York Times, Delaney, like his friend James Baldwin, “relished a sense of freedom as a gay black man that he did not have in the United States.”i

    "I learned about light from Beauford Delaney, the light contained in everything, in every surface, in every face." —James Baldwin

    While Delaney had always been a keen observer of his environment, his move to Paris saw him progressively shift towards an impressionistic idiom that clearly distinguished him from his contemporaries. The city scenes Delaney created while living in New York in the 1940s pulsate with bright, vibrant colors, the picture plane clearly delineated into contained forms and figures. Even though his work had already become progressively nonrepresentational in a manner that associated him loosely with the then emergent style of Abstract Expressionism, his time in Paris ushered in a dramatic shift in his studies of color and light.


    Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin in Paris, circa 1960.  Image copyright © Estate of Beauford Delaney

    "A form if it breathes some, if it has some enigma to it, it is also the enigma that is the abstract." —Beauford Delaney

    It was in Paris that Delaney created his first gestural abstractions, using densely applied oil paints to create ribbon-like swirls that flicker with a chromatic vibrance reminiscent of Claude Monet’s Rouen Cathedral painting. Gleaming with a luminosity evocative of his Composition 16, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Scattered Light, 1964, Knoxville Museum of Art, the present work exemplifies how Delaney embraced a similar palette of yellows, greens and reds in both abstract and figurative works throughout the next two decades. Delaney’s continuous shift between modes of figuration and abstraction allowed the artist to avoid easy categorization of his practice. This constant motion illuminates instead Delaney’s overarching concern to, “remember the sculpture and structure of color.”


    Property from the Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr. 


    The present work arrives at auction from the collection of pioneering Virginia-based philanthropists Pamela and William Royall, prominent collectors of 20th century and contemporary art in the American South.  The collection reflects their broad interests, from well-known artists from the 20th century to emerging and established Black artists. Committed arts patrons and forces of change in Richmond, the Royalls spearhead the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’s recent acquisition of Kehinde Wiley’s sculpture Rumors of War as board members of the institution and were instrumental to the museum’s expansion of the diversity of its collection. Believing in a vision of greater inclusivity for Richmond, the Royalls established a non-profit art gallery for the collection, Try-me, which was open without charge to the public, which fostered a space for local artists and education.  

    i Jake Cigainero, “Beauford Delaney Returns to the Scene”, The New York Times, September 8, 2016, online

    • Provenance

      The Artist
      The Estate of the Artist
      Levis Fine Art, Ossining
      Acquired from the above by the present owners in 2011

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Galerie Darthea Speyer, Beauford Delaney, February 6 - March 2, 1973
      New York, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Beauford Delaney: A Retrospective, April 9 - July 2, 1978, no. 39, n.p. (illustrated)
      Dorchester, Museum of National Center for Afro-American Artists, Spring 1978

Property from the Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr.


Street Scene

signed and dated "BEAUFORD DELANEY 1968" lower right
oil on canvas
38 1/8 x 51 1/8 in. (96.8 x 129.9 cm)
Painted in 1968.

Full Cataloguing

$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for $478,800

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York 8 December 2020