Decades After His Death, Max Beckmann Returns To New York

Departure (1932-1933), by Max Beckmann. Thomas Griesel/The Museum of Modern Art, New York hide caption

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Thomas Griesel/The Museum of Contemporary Art, New York

1 late December day in 1950, Max Beckmann was standing on a street corner near Central Park in New York City. The German expressionist painter had been on his way to see an exhibition featuring his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Known as “American Painting These days,” the show was displaying his Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket.

It would turn out to be his last self-portrait.

“Sadly he in no way made it to the Metropolitan Museum,” says the Met’s Sabine Rewald. “On the corner of Central Park West and 69th Street, on the side of the park where there is an entrance, he had a heart attack and he died.”

Now, Rewald is helping Beckmann return to Manhattan. She’s curating a show referred to as “Max Beckmann in New York,” which features 39 paintings from the artist. And, as Rewald tells NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, that contains the really self-portrait Beckmann had been on his way to see on the day of his death.

Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket (1950), by Max Beckmann. The painter had been on his way to see an exhibit featuring this self-portrait at the time of his heart attack. Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May possibly hide caption

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Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May possibly

“It is the centerpiece,” Rewald says.


Interview Highlights

On Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket

It is, as usually, a painting that — Beckmann shows himself smoking. And he has a bright blue jacket and his shirt is sort of reddish.

He painted with significantly louder colors, I have to say, when he lived here in New York. He lived right here for 16 months. He was driven, and he painted often hours and hours in his studio also at night. And he employed neon light, so I consider the neon light makes his colors somewhat sharper and a lot more vibrant.

On Max Beckmann’s life and function

He was in the starting an expressionist then briefly was portion of what is named new objectivity, realism. And then, in the late ’20s, early ’30s, he mingled typically mythology with realism, and that had to do also since of the rising National Socialism [also referred to as Nazism].

You see, in 1931, right after spending 15 years in Frankfurt, he moved to Berlin and he believed Berlin, a bigger metropolis, would in a way be a lot more secure for him, due to the fact his painting by ’33 was condemned as so-called “degenerate” by the National Socialists. And then he moved to Amsterdam, exactly where he would commit the subsequent 10 years in voluntary exile.

Household Image (1920), by Max Beckmann. Courtesy of The Museum of Modern day Art, New York. Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller hide caption

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Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller

He by no means went back to Germany. He stayed in Amsterdam until 1947 and then Beckmann was invited to teach in St. Louis. And so Beckmann left, and then in 1949 he was appointed to teach at the Brooklyn Art Museum college in New York, so he came to New York and felt that was the finish of exile. He said New York is like Berlin — ten times as vibrant — so he loved New York.

On Beckmann’s location now in the art globe

Paris Society (1925/1931/1947), by Max Beckmann. Courtesy of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York hide caption

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Courtesy of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

I think Beckmann’s spot as a German artist is comparable to [Pablo] Picasso’s spot. Beckmann is our most critical, well, dead German artist.

On what Beckmann would have thought of the show

Self-Portrait with Horn (1938), by Max Beckmann. Courtesy of Neue Galerie New York and Private Collection hide caption

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Courtesy of Neue Galerie New York and Private Collection

I believe he would have liked it very a lot. He would have said in his standard, cynical, humorous way: “Nice tiny show.”

Arts &amp Life : NPR