City of Knoxville Tennessee Arts CommissionAmerican Alliance of Museum

Section Three: Changing Fortunes, Changing Scenes

By the mid 1920s, Knoxville’s once thriving art scene had begun to stagnate as the city’s economic potential failed to materialize and local attitudes grew more conservative. Furthermore, Lloyd Branson’s death in 1925 and Catherine Wiley’s institutionalization in 1926 led to a void in artistic leadership. Younger artists concluded that their best chance for artistic success was to relocate permanently to major art centers. Brothers Beauford Delaney and Joseph Delaney, facing the additional hurdle of racism, left Knoxville in the mid 1920s to pursue their art careers in larger arenas, but followed very different artistic paths. After studying in Boston, Beauford chose New York and later Paris as the ideal settings for his experiments with expressive abstraction. Joseph headed for Chicago before settling in New York, and remained devoted to urban realism. He returned to Knoxville to visit his family over the years and eventually moved back to his hometown in 1986. Charles Griffin Farr grew up in Knoxville, but left for New York by 1931 and eventually settled in San Francisco. There, he enjoyed a long career as an influential art instructor and devoted realist painter during an era in which abstraction dominated the art world. A young Charles Rain left Knoxville for Nebraska with his mother after his parents divorced and never returned. He studied in Europe before moving to New York, where he established himself as a magic realist painter of extraordinary skill and vision. Edward Hurst was an art prodigy who pursued art training with George Luks at New York’s renowned Art Students League even before graduating from high school. Although Hurst returned to Knoxville frequently to display his elegant society portraits and precisely-crafted still lifes, he spent much of his life mingling with wealthy clientele near his studios in New York and London.

Beauford Delaney

Beauford Delaney is widely considered the greatest artist Knoxville ever produced, and regarded internationally as among the finest abstract painters of the 20th century. His vibrant portraits, urban scenes, and boldly painted abstractions drew attention for their powerful emotion and striking originality. Along with younger brother Joseph, Beauford trained with Lloyd Branson before leaving Knoxville for Boston in 1923. By 1929 Beauford had settled in New York, where he attracted a distinguished circle of cultural luminaries such as James Baldwin and Georgia O’Keeffe, but enjoyed little commercial success. After moving to Paris in 1953, Delaney intensified his pursuit of representing light in bold abstractions in which he applied brilliant hues over base layers of dark pigment. Baldwin wrote eloquently about Delaney’s art, noting that the artist’s painted light “held the power to illuminate, event to redeem and reconcile and heal.”

Joseph Delaney

Joseph and his brother Beauford Delaney are two of Knoxville’s most important artists. Born to a minister-father, the Delaney brothers learned to draw on Sunday school cards at church and were given art lesson by distinguished local artist Lloyd Branson. In 1930, Joseph studied with regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton at New York’s Art Students League with a group of classmates that included Jackson Pollock. Delaney spent the next 56 years painting portraits, figure studies, and lively scenes of urban life in lower Manhattan.

Charles Griffin Farr

Farr was a devoted realist painter who achieved recognition for his precise landscapes, still lifes and figure studies during the mid 20th century, a time when abstract painting was in vogue. He spent much of his youth in Knoxville before settling in San Francisco, where he worked as a figurative painter and influential figure drawing instructor. Farr was often referred to as a “magic realist” for his bright, clear views of a flawless, apparently vacuum-sealed world.

Edward Hurst

Hurst was known for his elegantly painted society portraits and meticulous still life drawings. He demonstrated early art talent and left Knoxville to study with George Luks at New York’s renowned Art Students League even before graduating from high school. Hurst developed a severe allergy to oil paint in 1959 and developed a new technique by combining watercolor, conte and colored pencil on paper.

Charles Rain

Rain is known for his meticulous, haunting, magic realist scenes. Born in Knoxville, he moved to Nebraska as a child and discovered an early love of art. He traveled to Europe frequently and was deeply influenced by the glazing technique of Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572). Rain adopted a similar method and, as a result, produced few works and often spent as much as six months on a single painting. His subjects included everyday objects arranged in strange, eerily-lit, dream-like scenes.

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