Beauford Delaney. Portrait of Howard Swanson. 1967

Beauford Delaney Portrait of Howard Swanson 1967

  • Not on view

This portrait by Delaney is suffused with the color yellow, the artist’s signature hue, which came to dominate many of his paintings after he left New York for Paris in 1953. While the artist’s transatlantic relocation coincided with his radical embrace of abstraction, Delaney continued to paint portraits of his friends and acquaintances, a genre that had first brought him recognition in the United States in the 1940s. His later portraits typically reflected his newly developed abstract language: in Portrait of Howard Swanson, one finds the same agitated networks of swirling brushstrokes and brilliant pigment featured in Delaney’s abstractions, what the artist described
as “lava-like smoke and fluid color.”

A fellow African American expatriate in Europe during the 1950s and ’60s, Howard Swanson was an important composer of classical music and one of Delaney’s closest friends. Delaney shows little interest in reconstituting his subject’s exact likeness or individual psychology: instead, he prioritized the evocation of Swanson’s distinctive personality and aura. A luminous, vibrant homage, this painting also conveys a striking sense of loss and absence. Swanson appears as a ghostly figure, his massive head and torso seemingly dissolving within the yellow surface. Made soon after Swanson’s definitive return to the United States, and hence probably painted from memory, this portrait pays affectionate tribute to a departed friend.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
39 x 31 3/4" (99.1 x 80.6 cm)
Credit
Committee on Painting and Sculpture Funds
Object number
1191.2013
Copyright
© 2021 Estate of Beauford Delaney, by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator.
Department
Painting and Sculpture
Licensing

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit https://www.moma.org/research-and-learning/circulating-film.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].

Feedback

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].