In an article from the Knoxville Mercury in 2016, Jack Neely wrote this about painter Beauford Delaney: “Beauford Delaney (1901-1979) is the best-known artist who ever lived in Knoxville.” That statement is inarguably true, but sadly requires some qualification. Although born in Knoxville in 1901, his artistic, but impoverished, life was spent in the art and literary world of Henry Miller, James Baldwin, and Georgia O’Keefe in New York and Paris. In his hometown, few outside of art circles knew who was. Delaney died in 1979 in a Paris mental hospital.
The Knoxville Museum of Art mounted a Beauford Delaney retrospective with loaned works in 2003, but surprisingly had none of the artist’s works in its collection. In a New York Times article from last fall, arts writer Jake Cigainero explained: “Growing market appreciation of Delaney’s work has made it challenging for the Knoxville museum to afford it. Mr. Rosenfeld [of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York], said that as the value of works by contemporary African-American artists like Mark Bradford and Glenn Ligon has risen dramatically, so has interest in the 20th-century African-American vanguard like Delaney, Norman Lewis and Alma Thomas. Delaney canvases that sold for $6,000 in the early 1990s, he said, now reach $200,000.”
The KMA is now remedying the situation with a major show of Delaney’s works that were acquired from the artist’s estate between 2014 and 2016.
The paintings and drawings in Gathering Light were purchased with funds provided by the Rachael Patterson Young Art Acquisition Reserve (part of a major gift from the Aslan Foundation), along with additional support from the KMA Collectors Circle, Brenda and Larry Thompson, and friends of the museum. The KMA also wishes to acknowledge Derek L. Spratley, the executor of the Estate of Beauford Delaney, for making works available for loan and acquisition. Accompanying the works acquired by the KMA are also a small selection of paintings from the artist’s estate that the museum hopes to raise funds to purchase.
Gathering Light opens officially at the KMA on Friday, May 5, and runs through July 23.
Knoxville Museum of Art
1050 Worlds Fair Park Drive
Tuesday – Saturday: 10am-5pm