The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Libraries has acquired the complete personal archive of internationally renowned modernist painter Beauford Delaney (1901–1979). Delaney, a member of the Harlem Renaissance and one of the leading modernist painters of his time, helped revolutionize art of the 20th century through abstract and expressionist painting — all despite battling poverty, prejudice, and mental illness. He achieved an international reputation for his portraits, scenes of city life, and free-form abstractions marked by intense colors, bold contours, and expressive surfaces.
Drawn from the artist’s estate, the collection eclipses in size and importance Beauford Delaney archival collections held by other leading national libraries. Richly documenting Delaney’s work and life, the archive contains correspondence with about 140 people, including leading artistic and literary greats such as James Baldwin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Henry Miller, and Al Hirschfeld, among others. There are also loose sketches, family and childhood photographs, photographs of Baldwin and other friends, and sketchbooks containing drawings, daily musings, and preliminary studies for some of Delaney’s major paintings.
Beauford Delaney and his brother Joseph Delaney (1904–1991) — also a well-known painter — were born in Knoxville. The University of Tennessee’s Ewing Gallery of Art holds a large bequest of sketchbooks, drawings, paintings, and archival material from Joseph Delaney. And two other local institutions — the Beck Cultural Exchange Center and the Knoxville Museum of Art — are rich repositories of Beauford Delaney’s legacy. The three institutions will leverage their collective holdings through programs, exhibitions, digital projects, and other initiatives to offer cultural enrichment and education to the wider Knoxville community.