February 25, 2024

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Max Beckmann designed space on his canvas

Max Beckmann designed space on his canvas

The German painter Max Beckmann (1884-1950) is known outside the Netherlands as one of the best artists of his time. It's time the Netherlands appreciated him too. After seeing the beautiful exhibition in the art museum, you will automatically love this painter.

Wolf joke

Max Beckmann did not like the Netherlands, and the Netherlands did not like his art. Although the painter loved to go on vacation to Scheveningen with his wife Mathilde. To paint the beach and then return to their home in Frankfurt or Berlin.

That was until 1937, when more than two dozen of Beckmann's recent paintings were exhibited at the infamous “Entartete Kunst” exhibition, in which the Nazis showed works of art they believed to be morally bad. After that, he was no longer given space in Germany to create and exhibit his works.

This is how the Beckmann family ended up in Amsterdam. In fact, they wanted to travel to Paris, or better yet, to New York. But before they left for the United States in 1940, the war began. Their temporary residence, a floor of the Rockin Hotel, was their home and studio until 1947. It was not until the last three years of his life that the couple finally lived in the United States. Beckmann died of a heart attack while on his way to the Metropolitan Museum in New York where his self-portrait was on display.

His best works were created in Rokin

Beckmann made his best paintings there in Rockne. But there was no interest in it in Holland; One Dutch critic in 1938 described Beckmann's work as “raw paintings without nuance.”

That this critic was wrong can be seen in 2007 at Beckmann's last major exhibition in the Netherlands, which focused on “Dutch work” – work which the artist was able to sell directly to his regular clients in Germany through the grapevine.

Max Beckmann: “The Bathers in the Green Changing Cabin and the Captains in Red Trousers,” 1934. Oil on canvas.Museum of Figurative Art The Hague

Now the Art Museum in The Hague is taking a different approach: in the exhibition Universe Max Beckmann Visitors travel through the spaces of the paintings. This may seem obscure, but thanks to clear explanation and a generous selection of paintings from all sorts of foreign museums large and small, as well as prints from our own collection, it is a beautiful, accessible and educational presentation.

The exhibition begins with a self-portrait from 1907: a confident, blond young man painting himself, cigarette in hand, impressionistically painted trees swaying in the background.

Classical perspective

When Beckmann, born in 1884 in Leipzig, studied at the Academy of Arts in Weimar and Berlin, painters were still studying according to the classical rules of perspective, which had entered Western art during the Renaissance. Straight lines disappear diagonally toward the horizon, and objects are larger in the foreground than in the distance. The space in the painting behaves exactly like the reality before our eyes.

Until the age of thirty, Beckmann showed that he could paint well in this tradition. He creates enormous canvases: historical paintings of recent events, such as the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. In the same year he also wrote an essay in which he opposed “new art” such as the art of Franz Marc and the French avant-garde. He thinks it's just an empty decoration, nothing more than wallpaper or a poster. Instead, he advocates art that is connected to the world around it. Although his style will change, he will always continue to draw people and objects.

The first steps in the exhibition move quickly, for example, a 1929 vertical painting of a group of rugby players piled on top of each other. All the rules of classical painting have been thrown overboard, just like a medieval painting. Beckman admired this early art.

The future is a black hole

He was also preoccupied with religion and philosophy throughout his life. First, this is essentially Friedrich Nietzsche's vision of the future, where there can be a normal life free of tradition. Beckmann's experiences in World War I, in which he served as a medical soldier on the front in Flanders, caused a reversal: the future is a black hole in which humans will find it difficult to find their footing.

Max Beckmann:

Max Beckmann: “Double Portrait”, 1941. Oil on canvas.Photo of Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

So he draws and paints this fist. That's why Beekman's landscape is always a view from a window, preferably a window with plants and a newspaper – a nod to current events – on the windowsill. There is often also a cat in the room. In the seascape there are fences and flags in the foreground, and the sea with the high horizon almost overwhelms us, as spectator and artist. It's not all so heavy, for example, Beckmann also paints his view from his bathroom with his toes in the foreground.

Acrobats and actors

Paintings of actors and acrobats, works that Beckmann painted before and during his exile in Amsterdam, play a special role. There is one beautiful painting artist From 1936, an acrobat floats towards us with her horizontal bar, with the circus tent in the background. The trilogy is also amazing Actors Which Beckman paints in Amsterdam: a crowded parade of characters from all stages of world history who play their parts on stage as if they were at a medieval altar.

Beckman's only 3D portrait in the show plays a special supporting role: one Man in the dark From 1934. Despite his enormous feet and hands, the man living in the dark does not know how to understand the space around him. Thanks to Beckman, we're able to see this research bringing a little order to the chaos. It's hard not to love this artist after this exhibition.

★★★★★

“Universum Max Beckmann” runs until May 20 at the Kunstmuseum in The Hague

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