Max Beckmann (German, 18841950)
Oil on canvas; 69 x 125 1/2 in. (175.3 x 318.8 cm)
Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (18761967), 1967 (67.187.53a–c)
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild–Kunst, Bonn
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. Initially he focused on biblical scenes, but during the 1920s he created more contemporary allegories and painted devastatingly realistic portraits and figure paintings associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) 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; in 1937, his paintings were included in a Nazi-sponsored exhibition of "degenerate art." Beckmann fled Germany via Amsterdam for the United States, where he died thirteen years later.
This painting is the eighth of ten allegorical triptychs that Max Beckmann made during his last two decades (193250). Their sequence follows the peripatetic course of his life. The first two were painted in Germany (193037), the next five while Beckmann was in exile in the Netherlands (193747), and the last two, both retrospective in nature, while Beckmann lived in America. The triptych illustrated here was first mentioned in the artist's diary on December 2, 1947, and was initially referred to as L'Enfance (childhood). The panels are autobiographical, dwelling on Beckmann's childhood: memories of his schooldays in Germany in the right panel balanced by the dream fantasy on the left. In the central panel, childhood memories and dream world intermingle. On April 22, 1949, Beckmann wrote in his diary of having "cut down" (finished) Beginning with "marvelous success."