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 Julien Binford  (1908 - 1997)

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Lived/Active: Virginia/New York / France      Known for: genre, figure, and landscape painting, sculpture, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
The Crapshoot
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Steve Holmes:


Julien Binford was born on Christmas day, December 25, 1909 in Fine Creek Mills, Virginia, where he spent his childhood.  Binford entered Emory University to study at the premedical school.  He developed such proficiency in his rendering of dissections that Roland McKinney, then director of the new Atlanta High Museum, offered to let the young Binford draw directly from the casts in the museum's collection.  This informal and personal arrangement was the seed that germinated eventually into the school of art at the Atlanta High Museum.  McKinney encouraged Binford to study at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was awarded the Ryerson Traveling Grant in 1932.

After a sojourn in Spain, Binford settled in Paris, painting the jewel-like gouaches that won him the friendship of writers and poets.  His talent was recognized by the dealer Paul Guillaume, who arranged for a one-person exhibit at the Galerie Jeanne Castel, and later at the Galerie Jean Charpentier.

On his return to America in late 1935, Binford settled with his wife in his native Powhatan County, Virginia.  There Binford turned to his African-American neighbors as models for his paintings and executed many regionalist works, including his most important painting, The Crapshooter, the winner of the Chicago Art Institute's Annual Award in 1941.  This painting depicts seven of Binford's neighbors engaged in a game of craps outdoors, with a sheet of blue linoleum serving as a table, the models including a preacher, a local deacon, a mail carrier, a logger and a grave digger.  Only a single full body appears in the then modernist image.  This painting was reproduced in color in Life Magazine in 1941.

His most important subject matter, African-Americans, were depicted by Binford because they were the most vital and picturesque, vivid and charming people he knew.  He painted Southern African-Americans in the late 1930s and early 1940s as people, without patronage and without condescension and not as illustrations of an economically and socially oppressed minority.

Binford also executed a number of public murals in the South.  His well-known River Jordan Mural (Life Magazine, November 16, 1942) was paid for in farm produce by his neighbors, the congregation of Shiloh Baptist Church.

During World War II, assigned to the Navy as an artist-correspondent for Life Magazine, the artist executed a series of sketches and paintings of New York harbor in wartime, and of convoy activities at sea; the paintings now hang in the Pentagon. In the late 1940s and 1950s, he produced numerous murals in regionalist manner.

While professor of art at Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia for some twenty years extending through the 1980s, Binford organized the series of exhibitions of international contemporary art from which the college's collection was formed.

Binford's work can be found in the permanent collections of the Butler Institute of Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Chicago Art Institute; Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Museum of the State of Washington; The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the New Britain Museum, Connecticut; among many other museums, universities and private collections.

Binford died in his native Virginia in 1997, following several museum retrospectives in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The best known artist to have taught at Mary Washington College at the University of Virginia is the painter Julien Binford.  Binford, a Virginian, received cosmopolitan training at the Art Institute of Chicago and traveled in Europe from 1932 to 1935 on an art fellowship.  After returning to the U.S., he and his wife bought an old foundry in rural Virginia, and slowly and with much effort turned it into a home.  Binford drew and painted the country scenes and country folk he lived among.

From this period - the late 1930s and early 1940s - come, we think, two of Binford's works: The oil painting, Palmore's Barn, shows a lone, nondescript farm building in the middle of a winter landscape.  The ground is white with snow, but the painting is the opposite of a celebration of a bright winter's day.  Instead, the edges of the snow have melted into slush, and brown-tinged gray obscures the sky.  The sense of cold and isolation and deprivation call to mind Mrs. Binford's description of their early life at the Old Foundry:

"It had no roof. It was the House of Usher.... We lived in a windy shack with no water, no lights, and no heat.... We cooked on the open hearth. And, in those winters, we had little to eat but ashcakes and molasses."

Binford's drawing of a farmer hoeing suggests an entirely different aspect of life around the Old Foundry.  The Binfords' neighbors - and eventual friends - were the poor black farming families living nearby.  These families' culture made a very strong impression.  Mrs. Binford wrote of attending the local church with her husband, "watching the lovely clothes, the luminous skins, in the smell of autumn and humanity and kerosene lamps, in the winged wind of many paper fans.... Julien's throat would tighten and I would unashamedly cry.  Those people were beautiful." Binford became famous for depicting scenes of the black farmers' daily work and activities.

Binford remained prolific as an artist until recent years, when illness has made it impossible for him to paint.  His works continues to be shown, however, in galleries in New York and Richmond.  The College has him to thank, not only for distinguished service as a teacher, but also for beginning the Galleries' exhibition program in 1956, and acquiring the core of the College's art collection.

ArsLonga, the website of Mary Washington College,

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Virginia, Julien Binford became one of the most prominent artists of the South in the 20th Century.  He was known as a painter, illustrator, sculptor, muralist and teacher, and spent most of his professional life in Powhatan, Virginia where he was an art professor at the University of Virginia from 1946 until his retirement in 1970.

He studied at Emory University, the Art Institute of Chicago with Boris Anisfeld, and in France and Spain on a Ryerson Traveling Fellowship from the Institute.

During World War II, he was an artist-correspondent for Life magazine, and one of his paintings, New York Harbor at War, was featured in a 1944 issue of Life.

Among his murals commissioned are panels in the banking room of the Greenwich Savings Bank at 3 West 57th Street in New York City, panels for the lobby of a Greenwich Savings Bank on 6th Avenue at 14th Street in New York City, and murals in Richmond, Virginia, in the lobby of the State Library and at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

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