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Delaney, Joseph

Delaney, Joseph

September 13, 1904
November 20, 1991

Painter Joseph Delaney was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Both he and his older brother Beauford Delaney became painters of contemporary urban African-American life. Joseph Delaney came north after high school, living briefly in Cincinnati, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Chicago, working at odd jobs along the way. He was captivated by the social life of Chicago in the early 1920s and remained in that city until 1928, shining shoes, washing windows, waiting tables, and meeting many of the jazz musicians who would become subjects for his paintings. In 1925 he began a three-year term with the National Guard; when he returned to Knoxville for a year in 1928, he organized the city's first Boy Scout troop and sold insurance.

Delaney settled in New York City in 1929 and enrolled at the Art Students League, where he was a student of Thomas Hart Benton and a classmate of Jackson Pollock. During the 1930s he was a muralist for New York's Federal Art Project (19361939), taught art in Brooklyn and Harlem, and cataloged textiles, Chippendale furniture, and Paul Revere silver for the Index of American Design.

Delaney's paintings include portraits and street scenes of New York; his most famous works are V-J Day, Times Square (1945) and Penn Station at Wartime (1945). Both scenes capture the movement of crowds in the metropolis while concentrating on each individual's unique facial expression and physical constitution. His works, which depict the constancy of everyday routines during moments of historical significance, tell a story through the stylistic tendencies of regional realism and German expressionism, influenced by Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock respectively. While the paintings communicate a concrete sense of place, presenting viewers with recognizable New York terrain and highly individualized characters, the linked elongated figures and the flattened perspective are informed by expressionist techniques.

Delaney exhibited individually through the 1940s at numerous galleries, and during the 1960s and 1970s his work was included in large exhibits that spanned the history of African-American visual arts in the United States. These included The Evolution of Afro-American Artists: 18001950 at City College of New York (1968), Invisible Americans, Black Artists of the 1930s at the Studio Museum in Harlem (1969), Fragments of American Life at Princeton University (1975), and Two Centuries of Black Art, which was produced by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and traveled throughout the United States (1977). Until his death, Delaney continued to operate a studio in Manhattan and showed his paintings at the annual Greenwich Village Art Show near Washington Square in New York.


Driskell, David C. Two Centuries of Black American Art. New York: Knopf, 1976.

Feinstein, Sam. "Joe Delaney." Art Digest (March 15, 1953): 31.

Fine, Elsa Honig. The Afro-American Artist: A Search for Identity. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1982.

Stock, Ellen. "Roamin' Fever." New York (May 26, 1975): 63.

jane lusaka (1996)

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