The Delaney Brothers

Beauford Delaney (1901-1979)


Knoxville-born artist Beauford Delaney is considered to be among the greatest abstract painters of the 20th century. 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 vibrant surfaces. The artist’s lifelong friend James Baldwin described Delaney’s compositions as a “metamorphosis into freedom” fueled by a painted light that “held the power to illuminate, even to redeem and reconcile and heal.”


Joseph Delaney (1904-1991)


The younger brother of Beauford, Joseph Delaney was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and was raised in a household governed by his father, a Methodist minister. In 1930, he decided to become a professional artist like his older brother and moved to New York City, where he studied at the Art Students League with Thomas Hart Benton and anatomist George Bridgeman.  During the Great Depression, he painted numerous portraits on commission, was employed by the WPA (1936-1939), and exhibited yearly in the Washington Square Park Outdoor Art Show. Known for densely narrative paintings focusing on New York City’s people and places, Delaney was drawn to the human figure and the events, struggles, and triumphs of ordinary existence. In 1985, Delaney returned to Knoxville to live out the remainder of his life. He stayed an artist in residence at the University of Tennessee, which mounted his first retrospective in 1986. While Delaney was well known in Tennessee, the 2006 traveling exhibition Life in the City: The Art of Joseph Delaney helped him achieve greater national recognition.