A modern icon: Beauford Delaney’s Marian Anderson

Beauford Delaney, Marian Anderson, 1965, oil on canvas, 160.02 x 130.81 cm (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond)


Beauford Delaney, Marian Anderson

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Key Points

  • Contralto singer Marian Anderson and visual artist Beauford Delaney, like many Black creatives throughout the 20th century, experienced freedom from the racism of the United States by working in Europe at points in their careers. Delaney worked in Paris from 1953 until his death in 1979. And, beginning in 1928, Anderson traveled and performed frequently across Europe, and the globe. 
  • With her success on the national and international stage, Anderson broke barriers of segregation and became an icon of civil rights. Most famously, she performed at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 after being barred from Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
  • In portraying Anderson almost three decades later, Delaney blended his strengths in both portraiture and abstraction. He also drew heavily on his contemporaneous explorations of the color yellow.

Go Deeper

More about Beauford Delaney from MoMA

Patricia Sue Canterbury, Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris (Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2005)

Stephen C. Wicks, Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin: Through the Unusual Door (The Knoxville Museum of Art, 2020)

The Marian Anderson Papers collection at the University of Pennsylvania

Listen to Marian Anderson’s full performance at the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939

Marian Anderson resources at the Smithsonian

Icons, an introduction

Abstract expressionism, an introduction

More to Think About

The color yellow dominates this portrait of Marian Anderson. Delaney associated yellow with hope. How else does the color convey meaning in this painting?

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

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