City of Knoxville Tennessee Arts CommissionAmerican Alliance of Museum


May 5-July 23, 2017

Gathering Light celebrates the Knoxville Museum of Art’s progress in building a representative collection of works by Knoxville-born Beauford Delaney (1901-1979), considered by many to be among the greatest American abstract painters of the twentieth century. Despite battling poverty, prejudice, and mental illness, Delaney achieved an international reputation for his portraits, scenes of city life, and free-form abstractions marked by intense colors, bold contours, and expressive surfaces. Gathering Light is part of a larger effort to bring long-overdue attention to Delaney’s legacy in his hometown.

With encouragement from his mentor, renowned Knoxville painter Lloyd Branson, Delaney left Knoxville in 1923 and by 1929 settled in New York City, where his artistic talents and outgoing nature attracted a host of cultural luminaries including James Baldwin, Duke Ellington, Willem de Kooning, Henry Miller, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Alfred Stieglitz.  Many of them became lifelong friends and subjects for his portraits.  After settling permanently in Paris in 1953, the central subject of his work became color—luminous color—applied with vigorous brushwork. Visible references to the outside world began to fade as the artist sought to battle his growing mental illness with what he believed to be the healing powers of light and brilliant hues.  As the artist’s inner turmoil grew, so did the emotional intensity of his paintings.  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.”

Gathering Light includes approximately 40 of Delaney’s paintings and drawings—nearly all of which have never before been on public view—that were purchased from the artist’s estate between 2014 and 2016. The majority of works featured in the exhibition were produced during and after the 1940s. Together, they provide a fascinating cross-section of the artist’s stellar career and demonstrate his ability to distill scenes of everyday life into explorations of the expressive power of color. The diverse selection also offers insight into Delaney’s complex inner world and demonstrates the broad spectrum of his creativity and experimentation. 

Complementing the group of works acquired by the KMA is a selection of important objects on loan from Delaney’s estate that the museum hopes to acquire. With the acquisition of these additional works, the KMA will have taken a major step toward establishing Knoxville as an international center for Beauford Delaney’s legacy along with New York and Paris. Also included is a selection of archival materials that shed light on the artist’s life and times.

The paintings and drawings in Gathering Light were purchased with funds provided by the KMA’s 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 the heirs of Beauford Delaney and Derek L. Spratley, the executor of the Estate of Beauford Delaney, for making works available for loan and acquisition. Selected works in the exhibition were conserved with funds provided by the Guild of the Knoxville Museum of Art through the Arlene Goldstine Conservation Fund. Custom framing was provided by Bennett Galleries, Inc and funded in part by the Guild of the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Click here for a full listing of works in the exhibition.

Presenting Sponsor:

  • The Frank and Virginia Rogers Foundation

Additional sponsors:

  • Ann and Steve Bailey
  • Emerson
  • McCarty, Holsaple, McCarty
  • The Knoxville (TN) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated

Media Sponsors:

  • Big Wheel
  • kurtzinser
  • wbirtv

Portrait of Delia Delaney, 1933, pastel on paper

Untitled (Clamart), 1959, watercolor and gouache on paper

Untitled (Landscape), late 1940s, watercolor on paper

Untitled (New York City), circa 1945

Untitled (Tuileries, France), 1966, pastel on paper

Dante Pavone as Christ, 1948, pastel on paper