Can Fire in the Park is as much a swirling vignette of thickly applied paint as it is an image of a place. Delaney developed a vocabulary of signs—streetlights, fire hydrants, manhole covers, and zigzagging fire escapes—that became emblematic riffs on city life. In Can Fire the bright yellow orbs of streetlamps and the glow of the moon against a cloud-filled night sky embrace the men with waves of color and light. Delaney struggled financially for most of his life, so this empathetic scene may also represent a night he once spent on a park bench and the amity he shared with other homeless men.


  • Title: Can Fire in the Park
  • Creator: Beauford Delaney
  • Date Created: 1946
  • Physical Dimensions: 24 x 30 in. (61 x 76.2 cm)
  • Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase
  • Artist: Born Knoxville, TN 1901 – Died Paris, France 1979
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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