Max Beckmann (German, Leipzig 1884–1950 New York)

Oil on canvas
69 x 125 1/2 in. (175.3 x 318.8 cm) 67 1/2 x 36 x 3 1/2 in. (171.5 x 91.4 x 8.9 cm) (Frame, 67.187.53a left panel) 71 1/2 x 61 1/2 x 3 1/2 in. (181.6 x 156.2 x 8.9 cm) (Frame, 67.187.53b center panel) 67 1/2 x 36 x 3 1/2 in. (171.5 x 91.4 x 8.9 cm) (Frame, 67.187.53c right panel)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876-1967), 1967
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Description

    Born in Leipzig, Germany, Max Beckmann enrolled at the Weimar Academy of Arts in 1899 and between 1903 and 1904 traveled to Paris, Geneva, and Florence. Before the age of thirty, he was successful as an artist and financially secure. His paintings of the time, inspired by Impressionism, attracted clients, and he exhibited widely in Europe during the teens and 1920s. Following World War I his work changed dramatically in reaction to the horrors he had seen. At first, he focused on biblical scenes, but during the 1920s he realized more contemporary allegories and painted devastatingly realistic portraits and figure paintings that were associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Realism) group, with whom he exhibited in 1925 but never formally joined. He saw the world as a tragedy of man's inhumanity to man and saw life as a carnival of human folly. His work remained intense and allegorical throughout his life, but after the mid-1920s his style of painting changed to include Expressionistic brushwork and brighter colors. With the rise to power of the National Socialist regime in Germany, Beckmann and his work came under attack. In 1933 he was dismissed from his teaching position at the Academy in Frankfurt, and in 1937 his paintings were included in a Nazi-sponsored exhibition of "degenerate art." Beckmann fled Germany in 1937 for Amsterdam and remained there for the next ten years. In 1947 he left for the United States where he died in 1950.

    The theme that connects the three panels of "Beginning," the most autobiographical of Beckmann's ten triptychs, is a childhood dream. The central panel shows a playroom where a little boy in military costume brandishes a sword as he mightily rides a rocking horse. His Puss 'n Boots doll hangs upside down behind him, presumably slayed by his weapon. The noise he makes has alarmed his parents (seen at the left near the ladder), who have climbed up to inspect his attic kingdom. More prominently placed is the figure of a redheaded woman who reclines seductively, blowing blue bubbles from a pipe. Squeezed between the boy and his fantasy is an old grandmother reading a newspaper. To the left and right, on separate panels, Beckmann painted other memories from his childhood — a hurdy-gurdy grinder and a classroom with teacher and students.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Signature: [right panel, lower right]: Beckmann L49

  • Provenance

    [Buchholz Gallery, New York, from 1949]; Adelaide Milton de Groot, New York (by 1950–d. 1967; her bequest to MMA)

  • Exhibition History

    Three. The Triptych in Modern Art, Stiftung Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, February 7, 2009- June 14, 2009.

    Paris, France: Centre Pompidou, September 11, 2002 - January 7, 2003;
    New York: MOMA QNS, June 25-September 30, 2003, ¦Max Beckmann¦. no.84, pp.140-141, illus in color.

    New York: Guggenheim Museum SoHo, October 9, 1995 - January 5, 1996. ¦Max Beckmann in Exile¦.

    Australia: Australian National Gallery, March 1 - April 27, 1986. Queensland Art Gallery, May 7- July 1, 1986. ¦20th Century Masters from The Metropolitan Museum of Art¦. Exh. Cat. p. 69 (illus. in color)

    Munich, Germany: Haus der Kunst, February 22-April 22, 1984. Berlin, Germany: Nationalgalerie, May 18 - July 29, 1984. St. Louis, Missouri: The Saint Louis Art Museum, September 7 - November 4, 1984. Los Angeles, California: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 9, 1984 - February 3, 1985. ¦Max Beckmann Retrospective¦. Pp. 310-312 (illus.)

    Fort Lauderdale, Florida: The Museum of Art, April 6 - May 1, 1983. ¦Max Beckmann¦. Cat. no. 31 (mentioned in unpaginated text and catalogue list. Illustrated on cover¦.

    London, England: Whitechapel Art Gallery, November 12, 1980 - January 11, 1981. Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, January 22 - March 8, 1981. Frankfurt, Germany: Stadtishce Gallerie, April 9 - June 21, 1981. ¦Max Beckmann: Triptychs¦. Plate 8, unpaginated catalogue. [Frankfurt cat. discussed p. 51, 98-99, illustrated in color p. 50 (illus.) p. 79, 100-101]

    Washington, D.C. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. "The Golden Door: Artist Immigrants of America, 1876 1976," May 20–October 20, 1976, no. 179.

    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, April - May 1970.
    Paris, France: Musee National d'Art Moderne. Munich, Germany: Haus Der Kunst. Brussels: Palais des Beaux-Arts. October 1968 - March 1969. no. 96. Separate catalogue for Musee National d'Art Moderne no. 100.

    Columbus, Ohio: Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, 1958. ¦Masterpieces from the Adelaide Milton de Groot Collection¦. no. 1 (listed)

    Hartford, Connecticut: Wadsworth Atheneum, January 10–February 12,1950. ¦The Adelaide Milton de Groot Loan Collection¦, unnum. checklist.

    New York: Buchholz Gallery, 1949. ¦Max Beckmann¦. no. 22 (listed; ill. with schoolroom as right panel)

    Frankfurt. Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie. "Beckmann and America," October 7, 2011–January 8, 2012, no. 68 (as "The Beginning").

  • References

    Reifenberg, Benno and Wilhelm Hausenstein. Max Beckmann. Munich: 1949, p. 82, no. 656 (listed, as owned by Max Beckmann, New York).

    Seckler, Dorothy. "Review and Previews" in Art News. Vol. XLVII, Part I, 1949 (Nov.), p. 52.

    Genauer, Emily. "Beckmann's Harnessed Power" in The Art Digest, vol. 24, no. 3, 1949 (Nov.), p. 13

    C[harles]. C. C[unningham]. "Adelaide Milton de Groot Loan Collection." Wadsworth Atheneum Bulletin, no. 13 (January 1950), p. 1, ill.

    Buchholz Gallery, New York. Max Beckmann, 1951

    Vollmer, Hans. Allgemeines Lexickon der Bildenden Kunstler des XX. Jahrhunderts. Vol. 1, Leipzig, 1953, p. 151.

    Schiff, Gert. "Max Beckmann: Die Ikongraphie der Triptychen, Umrisse einer geplanten Arbeit" In Munuscula Discipulorum, Kunsthistorische Studien Hans Kauffmann zum 70. Geburstag 1966, Berlin, 1968, p. 281 f. fig. 237 illus.

    Kessler, Charles S. Max Beckmann's Triptychs. Cambridge: Massachusettes, 1970. Illustrated and discussed, pp. 77-86 (color plate opposite p. 77)

    Gopel, Erhard and Barbara. Max Beckmann: Katalog der Gemalde,Vol. 1. Kornfeld & Cie, Bern. 1976. No. 789, p. 477. Plats 292-294, Vol. II (illus).

    Berman, Greta and Jeffrey Wechler. Realism and Realities: The Other Side of American Painting, 1940-1960. No. 85, p. 72 (illus.)

    Erpel, Fritz. Max Beckmann Leben im Werk Die Selbstbildnisse. Munich, Germany: 1985. Pg. 373, illus. pg. 295. (only center of tryptich is illustrated).

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York, 2012, p. 415, ill. (color).

  • See also