Beauford Delaney came to New York City in 1929 from Tennessee by way of Boston-where he attended art school-and was immediately enthralled by the city. An heir to the Ashcan School of social realists, Delaney produced a series that showed the realities of the Great Depression. Very private, Delaney divided his life among his African American friends in Harlem, his gay white acquaintances in Greenwich Village (where he lived), and modernist art circles revolving around Alfred Stieglitz. Delaney was of but not in these communities, and he felt the weight of his isolation from each of them.
A figurative painter in the age of abstraction, he left many brilliant likenesses, including this one of novelist James Baldwin, who had described Delaney as his "spiritual father." Baldwin, although much more honored and materially successful than Delaney, also confronted the dilemma of being black and gay in his fiction and in his life.