Profile: Joseph Delaney (1904-1991)

Joseph Delaney was an African-American artist who became a part of the New York art scene at the time of the Harlem Renaissance.

Early life and education

Delaney was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, one of ten children of a Methodist minister. He was the younger brother of Beauford Delaney, with whom he shared an interest in drawing. In his late teens and early 20s, Delaney spent a period of years without a settled home before joining the Eighth Infantry Regiment, Illinois National Guard.

In 1930, Delaney moved to New York City, where he enrolled in the Art Students League of New York. At the Art Students League he studied with Alexander Brook, figure drawing with George Bridgman, and human anatomy under Thomas Hart Benton. He experimented with the expressive line. Delaney later cited Benton as a major influence, saying, “Benton will be with me always”.During his free time, Delaney sketched the people and places around him.


During the Great Depression, he was employed by the Works Progress Administration. He taught children’s art classes, drew renderings of silver by Paul Revere, and eventually joined the easel division. Around the time that the WPA ceased to operate, Delaney was awarded a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. From the summer of 1942 until January 1943, he used the grant to travel the eastern seaboard and create a series that documented the lives of black laborers.

Delaney lived and worked in New York until 1986, showing his work in New York’s Washington Square for decades.

In 1986 he returned to Knoxville to become an artist-in-residence at the University of Tennessee, a position he held until his death in 1991.

Throughout his life, Delaney was committed to opposing racial discrimination, and his work reveals a “deep concern for the lives of common people.”

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