Can Fire in the Park

Media - 1989.23 - SAAM-1989.23_1 - 51984
Copied Beauford Delaney, Can Fire in the Park, 1946, oil on canvas, 2430 in. (61.076.2 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1989.23

Artwork Details

Can Fire in the Park
Not on view
2430 in. (61.076.2 cm.)
Credit Line
Museum purchase
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • State of being — other — poverty
  • Figure group
Object Number

Artwork Description

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



Media - 1995.22.1 - SAAM-1995.22.1_1 - 65784
African American Art in the 20th Century
January 18, 2019January 18, 2019
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to one of the most significant collections of African American art in the world.