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Can Fire in the Park

1946 Beauford Delaney Born: Knoxville, Tennessee 1901 Died: Paris, France 1979 oil on canvas 24 x 30 in. (61.0 x 76.2 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase 1989.23 Smithsonian American Art Museum
1st Floor, South Wing

Exhibition Label

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 and hear from the fire 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.

African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, 2012


Figure group

Landscape - park

State of being - other - poverty


paint - oil

fabric - canvas