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Street Scene

Beauford Delaney

Artwork Details

Street Scene
Beauford Delaney
oil on canvas
18 in x 22 in (45.72 cm x 55.88 cm);23 1/2 in x 27 1/2 in (59.69 cm x 69.85 cm)
Gift of Dr. James and Vivian Curtis


Beauford Delaney was involved in New York City’s avant-garde art scene from the 1930s until 1952, when he left the United States to join the growing circle of African American expatriate artists living in Paris. This streetscape, painted shortly before his departure, speaks to formative years in his career when he lived and worked in Greenwich Village, befriending fellow artists such as Willem de Kooning (1904–1997) and Jackson Pollock (1912–1956). An intersection of buildings, city streets, and traffic lights rises against a lavender and blue sky. The flat space and thick applications of paint reflect Delaney’s interest in the artistic practices of European modern artists such as Henri Matisse (1869–1954), while the energized, zippy colors and a lyrical painterly style are influenced by the improvisational nature and syncopated tunes of jazz music. The patches of bright color and bold outlines point to his coming shift to abstract painting.  

Subject Matter:

Beauford Delaney was an African American artist who was heavily involved in the Harlem Renaissance and Greenwich Village art scene of the 1930s, 40s, and early 50s.  Though he was originally from Knoxville Tenesse, and eventually moved to Paris in 1953, this painting is an excellent example of the kind of work he was creating during his time in New York. During this period of his career, Delaney's paintings were characterized by bright colors, flat representations of space and shapes, and bold outlines. His work verges on abstraction, as it would do so completely after his move to Paris just two years later.  Additionally, Delaney's belief in the emotional and spiritual powers of colors is prominent in this work, particularly the use of yellow, which Delaney felt signified redemption and regeneration.  The influence of artists such as Henri Matisse and the Fauves is also evident in Delaney's rendering of the street as a flat space blocked into distinct patches of space with prominent outlines.

Though Delaney suffered from mental illness and financial struggles throughout most of his life, the vibrancy of this work reflects the creative and enriching environment that New York and it's art scene provided for him in the middle of the twentieth century.

Physical Description:

This is a brightly colored oil painting of a street scene. Buildings are depicted in pink, yellow, and white.  A lavender and blue sky with white and yellow clouds makes up the background. Two women stand in the lower left corner; another woman and a black dog are seen on the right side. The ground is made up of patches of white, yellow, pink, and blue.  Thick black outlines are used throughout and the paint has been applied in a very thick and factured manner. Traces of newspaper appear to have been laid on the painting while it was still wet and became stuck and are visible in the clouds at the top and in the white portion of the central building, just under the street lamp.

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