In a few days, thousands of people will brave the cold to ring in the new year in Times Square. The ball will drop, confetti will go up, couples will kiss, and there may be a celebratory drink or two. The mood in Times Square was much the same on VJ Day, which brought an effective end to World War II. On August 14, 1945 at 7:03 pm the Times Tower zipper delivered the news: “Official—Truman Announces Japanese Surrender.” The excited crowd, already 500,000 strong, soared to 2 million by 10 pm.
Artist Joseph Delaney was at the scene, and years later depicted it in his work V-J Day, Times Square (above, Delaney poses with the work), which is currently on display in WWII & NYC. Born in Tennessee, Delaney moved to New York in 1930 and studied with Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League. At home on Grand Street when the news of surrender broke, he rode the subway to Times Square: “At first I couldn’t move. People were just jammed together. Some crying, some laughing, some shouting, excited, everybody drawn together, touching. I slowly worked my way up to 46th Street . . . I could get [a] perspective of the whole scene . . . thousands of people with overwhelming joy, just letting go, as though everything terrible has ended.”
His work, the largest painting of his career, captures the chaos and joy impeccably. Drunken sailors roll on the sidewalk, friends and family hug and kiss, and newspapers fly in the air. Every inch is occupied with movement.