Opening on October 19, 2016, and running through to February 20, 2017, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present a collection of works by Max Beckmann, highlighting his close relationship with New York City, the city that was to become his home towards the end of his life.
The exhibition on show at The Met Fifth Avenue features 14 works Beckmann created whilst living in New York, as well as 25 further pieces created between 1920 and 1948, and held in various New York collections. It is assembled in such a way as to include self-portraits, mythical and expressionist interiors, colourful portraits of women and performers, landscapes, and triptychs.
During that time, he was represented by prestigious art dealers.
He also taught at the Städel Art School in Frankfurt, moving in a circle of influential writers, critics, publishers, and collectors.
His Self-Portrait with Cigarette, painted in 1923, shows a self-confident young man, sure of himself and his surrounds.
Beckmann is considered to be an artist of the Expressionist movement, a modernist art movement that sought to emphasize emotional experience rather than physical reality, often using broad, harsh brush strokes to do so.
The artist himself rejected the movement, and was briefly associated with the New Objectivity movement, an offshoot of Expressionism that rejected its introverted emotionalism.
After the progressive creativity of Germany in the 1920s, the devastating rise of National Socialism during the 1930s resulted in Beckmann’s immigration to Holland in 1937 – the National Socialists had labelled his work as ‘degenerate’, confiscating many of his artworks from German museums, and he fled the country for Amsterdam the day after Hitler’s radio speech about degenerate art.
Beckman remained in the Netherlands for ten years, including the duration of the Second World War, and considered himself to be in exile during this time.
The image Self Portrait with Horn (1938), painted during this time, shows a burdened and unhappy man.
In 1947, after rejecting teaching positions in both Berlin and Munich, Beckmann accepted a position in the Midwest of the United States of America, at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.
He was to stay there only two years.
Max Beckmann arrived in New York in early September 1949, and whilst he was not aware of it at the time, was to reside there for the remainder of his life.
He and his wife took an apartment on East 19th Street, Manhattan, later moving to West 69th Street near Central Park.
He taught at Brooklyn Museum Art School, where he had obtained a professorship.
From all accounts Beckmann was enamoured by New York City, and considered it, “a pre-war Berlin multiplied a hundredfold”.
New York City bewitched Beckmann, and so began a new and energized period of creativity which saw the painting of works such as The Falling Man (1950), a powerful painting influenced by the cityscape in which Beckman found himself.
The Beginning triptych (1950), by its very name, indicates Beckmann’s feeling of revitalisation, and illustrates memories of his childhood intermingled with dreamlike sequences
The works displayed in the exhibition span more than three decades, from 1920 to his death in 1950.
They comprise a variety of themes, including early home life, illustrated in Family Picture (1920), to the bonhomie of society, in the vibrant Paris Society (1925/1931/1947).
Many of the artworks on display were first introduced to New York many years before Beckmann himself arrived on American shores.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Berliner art dealers J. B. Neumann and Curt Valentin had brought Beckmann’s works to the attention of both public and private collectors within the city. Numerous private collectors purchased works and subsequently gifted them to public galleries, including Family Picture, which was acquired by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who then gifted the work to the Museum of Modern Art in 1935.
The Museum of Modern Art was an advocate for Beckmann’s work, displaying eight of his works in a 1931 exhibition on German Painting and Sculpture, and subsequently obtaining further works for their extensive collection, several of which are included in the exhibition.
In December 1950, Max Beckmann set out from his apartment on West 69th Street to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where one of his recent works, Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket (1950) was on display in the exhibition American Painting Today.
He never reached the museum to see his painting. On the corner of 69th Street and Central Park West, the 66-year-old suffered a fatal heart attack, and very sadly passed away. The poignant circumstances of his death has served as an inspiration for the exhibition, in what is a fitting tribute to a great artist.
Belinda McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, October 2016
The Met Fifth Avenue, Gallery 199, New York City
October 19, 2016 – February 20, 2017
The exhibition has been organized by Sabine Rewald, the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Curator for Modern Art in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and has been made possible by The Isaacson-Draper Foundation. It is supported by an Indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.