Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Max Beckmann

Carnival, 1943.

Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
Exhibition of Twentieth Century German Art, New Burlington Galleries, London. 6 paintings and a print shown. Curated by Herbert Read. At the opening  Beckmann delivered “On My Painting” a lecture in German.

“… I have never been politically active in any way. I have tried only to realize my conception of the world as intensely as possible… My aim is to transfer this reality into painting – to make the visible invisible through reality… In my opinion all important things in art since Ur of Chaldees, since Tell Halaf and Crete have always originated from the deepest feeling about the mystery of Being. Self-realization is the urge of all objective spirits. It is this self that I am searching in my life and in my art … The greatest danger that threatens humanity is collectivism. Everywhere attempts are being made to lower the happiness and the way of living of mankind to the level of termites. I am against these attempts with all the strength of my being .. I am immersed in the phenomenon of the individual, the so called whole Individual, and I try in every way to explain and present it. What are you? What am I? Those are the questions that constantly persecute and torment me and perhaps also play some part in  my art.”

1884 born near Leipzig
Pre-1914 successful history painter, highly critical of many trends in art
1914-15 stretcher bearer, suffers breakdown
1917 begins to re-make his art in new angular way.
1920s paintings of carnival etc Identified with Neue Sachlichkeit.
1930s declared degenerate by Nazis
1937-47 years of exile in Amsterdam
1947-50 America.

Early life
1884 born near Leipzig
1900 aged 16 goes to grand Ducal Art Academy Weimar
1903-4 lives in Paris. Enthusiastic about Cezanne, Courbet and Pissarro.
1904 travels through Italy Switzerland and S germany: Visits studio of hodler.
1905-6 painting in Berlin. Prize-winner of Italian scholarship.
1907-9 paints large history paintings. Sees work by Matisse (“too aesthetic for me , too delicate…”)
1910 more success as he becomes the youngest member of the board of the Berlin Secession. At this time the Secession refused to show work by German expressionist artists.
1912 The Sinking of the Titanic. Writes a review attacking Franz Marc and the expressionists.
1913 successful one person show. Follows Liebermann and Corinth out of the Secession to form Free Secession. Writes of his art as spiritual and spatial trying to get to the heart of things as opposed to decorative frivolous modern art.

War July 1914- October 1915
Volunteers to work as an able seaman then switches to nurse in East Prussia.
“I have experienced some truly horrible things….” (1914)

“I myself constantly vacillate between great excitement at everything I see, depression at the loss of individuality, and a feeling of deepest irony about myself and, occasionally the world. Finally however the world always compels my admiration. Its capacity for variety is indescribable and its power of invention is unlimited.” (1915)

Revelling in the experience of mass conflict which he claims is feeding his art he eventually succumbs to a breakdown.

1917 starts work and with a burst of activity produces a set of prints and three large paintings on religious themes for a one person show.
 1918 follows the new work with a new statement of intent and belief “A Confession”
“I believe that essentially I love painting so much because it forces me to be objective. There is nothing I hate more than sentimentality.”
Says he will use “crystal clear, razor sharp lines and planes…”

“right now we have to get as close to people as possible. It’s the only course of action that might give some purpose to our superfluous and selfish existence – that we give people a picture of their fate…”

Begins to read philosophy and theosophy particularly the works of Madame Helena Blavatsky.

1919 paints the Night and draws the lithographs Hell.

1920 tries his hand at writing (Ebbi and Hotel) Turns down a teaching position.
Signs a contract with a gallery (I.B. Neumann)
Neumann holds a show in Berlin and then moves his gallery (1923) to New York.

1923 writes Self-Portrait
“what shall I say… the result will be music that consists of nothing but pauses.”

“We live from one day to another…..”
“Beckmann had the bad luck not to have been endowed by nature with a money-making talent, but rather a talent for painting….”

1924 Piper publishing house brings out a large monograph on Beckmann. A one person show seems to celebrate his importance. His paintings appear in the landmark exhibition “Neue Sachlichkeit: German Painting since Expressionism.” (Mannheim)

1925 Beckmann marries for second time: new wife is Quappi (Mathilde von Kaulbach)
At this stage he exhibits regularly and has a guaranteed income from picture sales through Neumann’s gallery. He also began teaching at Stadel Art school, Frankfurt.

1927-9 wins prizes, has works in major collections, and writes on the role of the artist. Is appointed professor.
1930-1 plans to compete with French avant garde. Shows in Paris where he keeps a studio and flat until 1932. Attracts first criticism by the fascist press. Attacks by fascists increase over the following three years.

1932 Berlin National Gallery shows his work in a room of their own.
Begins work on “Departure.” (completed 1935)

Berlin 1933-7
Beckmann moves to capital in Jan 1933. Hitler assumes power in March. Beckmann is sacked from teaching position the following month. His paintings are removed from display at the National Gallery.

1934 Beckmann is fifty. In 1936 he shows in Hamburg. Weeks later the Nazis ban all art criticism.
Beckmann begins to plan his escape; he travels to Paris and discusses emigration to the US.

1937 entarte kunst: Degenerate Art show Munich. 500 works by Beckmann removed from German museums. 10 paintings and 10 prints shown in Munich.
2 million visit the show which then travels around Germany.
Hitler opens Haus der Deutschen Kunst, Munich.
Beckmann leaves Germany next day never to return.

Amsterdam 1937-47
Max and Quappi arrive with little luggage or cash. However the wife of the janitor of their Berlin apartment building manages to post many belongings and art works to them before the Gestapo can act to stop her.
Studio found at Rokin 85.
Sells work in Switzerland and US.
1938 New Burlington Galleries, On My Painting.
Admires work of William Blake at the Tate.

1939 Nazis make a bonfire of the confiscated art works from museum collections. Others are auctioned by them in Lucerne, including 3 Beckmanns.
Temptation wins a prize in San Francisco.

May 1940 Germany invades Holland. Beckmann burns his diaries. He continues to work at Rokin 85 studio. However secret stashes of paintings need to be established in fear of confiscation.

June 44 fighting begins in Holland. Liberation of Amsterdam followed by peace in May 45. Beckmann under surveillance and unsure of his future.
Stedelijk Museum buys Double Portrait of Max Beckmann and Quappi.
1946 sell out New York show.
Beckmann declines offers of teaching positions in Germany. He shows there but despite planning to visit does not.
August 1947 officially classified Non-enemy.

Moves to US teaching first at St Louis then at Brooklyn Museum Art School. (1949)

“I hope that you won’t expect me to instil in your minds at once – like a mighty magician – the spirit of fiery genius. In my opinion you ought to learn very much, in order to forget most of it later on. That means that I wish you to discover your own selves, and to that end many ways and detours are necessary….”

Boxing Day 1950: he finishes The Argonauts. 27 Dec suffers a heart attack while walking to Metropolitan Museum to see Self-Portrait in a Blue Jacket on show in American Painting Today. Dies at corner of 61st street at Central Park West.

Lecture delivered Monday 18th January 2010, Newcastle Arts Centre, Westgate Road. Part of the Visions strand of the Explore Membership Scheme of the North East Centre for Lifelong Learning.

Further Reading
Wikipedia entry. (includes image used above)
Rainbird S ed (2003) Max Beckmann, Tate, London.
Copeland Buenger B (1997) Max Beckmann Self-Portrait in Words, Collected Writings and Satements, 1903-1950, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
O’Brien Twohig S (1984) Beckmann Carnival, Tate London.

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