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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Beauford in Jules B. Farber's James Baldwin - Escape from America, Exile in Provence

Jules B. Farber's book, James Baldwin - Escape from America, Exile in Provence, is a story woven from over seventy interviews with friends, associates, and lovers of James Baldwin about the seventeen years (1970-1987) that Baldwin lived in the French provincial town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. It is MUST READ for those wanting to better understand Baldwin's thoughts, fears, actions, and works written during these last years of his life.

James Baldwin - Escape from America, Exile in Provence
Book cover

Farber begins his account by explaining how Baldwin moved into a homestead owned by an elderly spinster named Jeanne Faure. He describes how Baldwin first occupied "a basement flat in the old stables, accessible through a small, narrow passage under the kitchen" and went on to "buy" rooms in the house to provide a place to stay for his personal entourage and his myriad visitors. Baldwin and Mademoiselle Faure developed a deep friendship over the years and it was commonly known that she wished the property to go to Baldwin upon her death. In 2007, the Baldwin family lost a 20-year legal battle over ownership of the property to Mlle Faure's housekeeper/caretaker, Mme Josette Bazzini.

Farber describes Baldwin's underground apartment (the same space used as a studio by Georges Braque) as having three of Beauford's paintings on the wall. He says that two of the paintings were portraits of Baldwin

Portrait of James Baldwin
(1971) Oil on canvas
Bequest of James Baldwin to Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator
Image courtesy of Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries
Note: Some question whether the person depicted in this portrait is indeed Baldwin.

and that the third was a portrait of Foster White, a former lover of Baldwin.

Beauford spent a great deal of time at this place, particularly when he was in need of physical and psychological care and healing. He would stay there for weeks at a time, surrounded by Baldwin, Bernard Hassell, and frequently, Baldwin's brother, David - all people who loved him and looked out for him.

From left to right: David Baldwin, James Baldwin, and Beauford
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Sketching and painting the scenery of the area were part of his "therapy."

Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Creative Commons License - Dynamosquito

Village (St. Paul de Vence)
(1972) Oil on canvas
Bequest of James Baldwin to Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator
Image courtesy of Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries

Sadly, the land and buildings are now greatly deteriorated. The extensions of the original house have been destroyed by the current owner, a developer who has the intent to construct luxury apartments there.

House and extension wing
Image courtesy of His Place in Provence

House with wing removed
Image courtesy of His Place in Provence

An organization called His Place in Provence is working to prevent the unfortunate transformation of this centuries-old, historical site. If successful, they will preserve a part of Beauford's history and legacy alongside those of Baldwin.

In Chapter 1, Farber includes details of an interview with Richard A. Long, a dear friend of Baldwin and Beauford, in which Long described bringing Beauford to Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1973 (the year was actually 1972). Long indicated that the only other time he returned to the town was after Baldwin's death, when he inventoried the artworks that Baldwin had bequeathed to Clark Atlanta University. Among these works were several by Beauford.

A couple of brief mentions of Beauford in Chapters 1 and 5 indicate that he was also at Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1974 and that he was not well at that time.

Pages 130-132 in Chapter 6 are devoted to anecdotes surrounding Beauford's placement in Sainte-Anne's Hospital in Paris and the depressing effect this had on Baldwin. Coupled with the public attack on Baldwin made in Le Canard Enchaîné, a satirical French newspaper, about his care of Beauford, Baldwin's concern for Beauford's deterioration detrimentally affected his work on the novel Just Above My Head.

Two B&W photos in the central section of the book reference Beauford. One is of Baldwin sitting in his underground office beneath Beauford's portrait of him.

James Baldwin in his house in Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Creative Commons Attribution
OT Saint Paul de Vence

The other is a Max Petrus photo of Baldwin and Beauford at Sainte-Anne's Hospital.

In Chapter 11 - "Black Music: Gospel, Blues, and all that Jazz," Farber credits Beauford with exposing Baldwin to secular black music in 1940. He quotes extensively from Baldwin's introduction to The Price of the Ticket, where Baldwin talks of "walking into music" when he visited Beauford's Greenwich Village apartment for the first time. This music would influence Baldwin's ability to write and the content of his writing for the rest of his life.

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