Beauford Delaney had never been rich. He grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of a Methodist preacher and a former slave. As an artist living in New York, he faced hard times. To pay for his trip to Paris, he rented out his New York art studio, and friends held a fund-raiser to help with his expenses. By the winter of 1954, however, most of Delaney’s funds were gone. But friends in the United States sent him gifts for Christmas and his birthday, so he could stay on in Paris. Despite shaky finances, he determined to make his time there a success.
The winter of 1953/54 was hard for Delaney. Cold temperatures in Paris hit a record low, and his studio was unheated. He had brought along only a thin old coat and couldn’t afford a new one. With so little money, he couldn’t even buy canvas to paint on. Luckily, sometime around January, he received a gift of a warmer coat, a gift that inspired him in a surprising way. He cut up his old coat. It became a “canvas” on which he created several paintings, including Untitled.