Works in the Collection
Joseph Delaney was born in 1904 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Delaney’s father was a Methodist minister, and he and his siblings, among them acclaimed artist Beauford Delaney, grew up in an educated family. Never a particularly successful student, Delaney dropped out of school in the ninth grade and spent his days aimlessly until he left Knoxville in 1922. He spent his next six years living an itinerant life until joining the Illinois National Guard.
In 1930, Delaney relocated to New York City where his brother Beauford was already enjoying great success. He enrolled as a full-time student at the Art Students League, studying under a number of influential artists including Thomas Hart Benton. He was drawn to populist art and began creating the vibrant and lively city scenes he is best known for. Delaney held a number of positions in the WPA, and was a regular exhibitor in the Washington Square Park Outdoor Art Show, where he often sold portraits created on site.
In 1985, Delaney returned to Knoxville, and in 1986, the University of Tennessee mounted the first retrospective of his work. At the recommendation of his friend and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alex Haley, he was granted an artist-in-residence at the University of Tennessee. He remained in Knoxville until his death in 1991. In 2006, a traveling exhibition featuring his work brought new attention to his work. Today, his work can be found in many collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the National Academy of Design, among others.