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James Baldwin 1924–1987
When Beauford Delaney made this pastel portrait of writer James Baldwin in 1963, his protégé was at the height of his powers. Baldwin's controversial novel, Another Country, was a best-seller, and he had recently published his important collection of essays, The Fire Next Time. Delaney had once served as a surrogate "father in art" to the teenaged Baldwin in New York. Baldwin, in turn, was inspired by the older artist's ideas, devotion to his work, and struggles with the challenges of homosexuality, mental illness, and alcoholism.

Although Delaney loved Baldwin, his portrait is not about nostalgic affection. Heated and confrontational, its harsh colors roughly applied, the pastel hints at the inner anxieties that would ultimately land Delaney in a psychiatric hospital. His pastel glows with the vibrant, Van Gogh–inspired yellow the artist often used after he moved to Paris in the 1950s. One of perhaps a dozen portraits that Delaney made of Baldwin over thirty years, it is both a likeness based on memory and a study of light.

Beauford Delaney (1901–1979)
Pastel on paper, 1963
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
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