Glass reviews … Max Beckmann in New York by Sabine Rewald

“My heart beats more for a rougher, commoner, more vulgar art … one that offers direct access to the terrible, the crude, the magnificent, the ordinary, the grotesque and the banal in life. An art that can always be right there for us, in the realest things of life,” Max Beckmann

MAX Beckmann (1884 – 1950), considered one of the pivotal figures of early 2oth century art, never accepted the famous movement he is most associated with – that of German Expressionism, with its subjective view of reality rooted in emotional, metaphysical terms.  Shocked by the horrors of the First World War, seen first hand as a medical officer, he moved away from traditional artforms and pursued a more critical, expressive style. However, Beckmann eschewed abstraction and instead aimed to “get hold of the magic of reality and to transfer this reality into painting”.

Max Beckmann in New York Beckman Self portrait with a Cigarette Museum of Modern Art New YorkMax Beckmann in New York. Beckman Self portrait with a Cigarette Museum of Modern Art New York

His popularity, as one of the main artists of this Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), reached its zenith during the Weimar Republic, with extensive retrospectives and exhibitions in Germany, Austria and Switzerland towards the end of the 1920s. He was most celebrated for his self-portaits, which evolved as his vision of himself and the world around him changed – drastically as it turned out – in the years to follow.

Max Beckmann in New York Beckmann Self portrait with Horn Neue Galerie New York and Private CollectionMax Beckmann in New York Beckmann. Self portrait with Horn Neue Galerie New York and Private Collection

His meteoric rise ended abruptly with the rise of the Nazis – who labeled him a “cultural Bolshevik” and removed his work from national museums across Germany. After surviving in self-imposed exile in Amsterdam, Beckmann moved to America in the late 1940s where his work was gaining its deserved recognition, eventually earning him a professorship at the Art School of New York’s Brooklyn Museum in 1949.

Max Beckmann in New York Beckmann The Old Actress Private Collection New YorkMax Beckmann in New York. Beckmann The Old Actress. Private Collection New York

A year later, just after Christmas, Beckmann stepped out of his E 19th St apartment to see one of his iconic paintings, Self Portrait in Blue Jacket (his only self-portrait painted in New York) on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sadly, he suffered a fatal heart attack on the way.

Max Beckmann in New York Beckmann Family Picture Museum of Modern Art New YorkMax Beckmann in New York. Beckmann Family Picture. Museum of Modern Art New York

This book accompanies an exhibition of Beckmann’s work produced in New York in the last year and a half of his life, along with earlier material from New York collections. Art historian Sabine Rewald provides a fascinating insight into the life of a fallen great artist and his gradual return to fame, with glimpses of the post-war art scene in America.

Max Beckmann in New York Beckmann Paris Society Solomon r.Guggenheim Museum New YorkMax Beckmann in New York. Beckmann Paris Society. Solomon r.Guggenheim Museum New York

In 1949, Beckmann’s paintings were sold at US$2000 ($20,000 in today’s prices) while Picasso’s were over $10,000 ($100,000 today).  Today, his large canvasses are worth over $1 million, with the highest value of  $22.5 million, attained at Sotheby’s New York in 2001 for Self-Portrait with Horn (1938), painted at a particularly fraught period of Beckmann’s life after he fleed Berlin for Amsterdam.

Max Beckman in New York Carnival Mask Green Violet and Pink Columbine Saint Louis Art MuseumMax Beckman in New York Carnival Mask Green Violet and Pink Columbine Saint Louis Art Museum

Although Beckmann longed to be back in Europe, he felt safe in America, ultimately deciding to live in New York with his devoted wife Quippa after his professorial appointment – a step that rejuvenated the great artist and his final resting place.

by Ethan Long

Max Beckmann in New York by Sabine Rewald is published by Yale University Press (£30) to accompany the exhibition at Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028 until February 20, 2017

Front page image: Max Beckmann in New York. Beckmann Departure Museum of Modern Art New York