Tuesday 12 February 2013

Birthday Beckmann

Born on this day in 1884 was the German artist Max Beckmann. Resolutely unclassifiable and unflaggingly productive, Beckmann is, IMHO, one of the underrated greats of 20th-century art. I knew little of him before the 2003 Tate Modern exhibition, but I remember emerging from that display stunned by the impact of his best work, and hugely impressed by the power of his imaginative vision and the prodigious skill with which he conveyed it. It was one of the most memorable exhibitions of my life - and one of the few times that I've actually enjoyed a visit to the ghastly Tate Modern.


  1. Nige, reading your post prior to departure I asked our mole on the inside of the Ludwigs Museum (they have thirteen Beckmanns) the question 'why is he little known in the UK.' 'Interesting question,' a response that usually has me thinking an answer will not be forthcoming. Well, a wound was opened, remembering that the Ludwig is renowned for it's championing of twenty century art and has oodles of paintings by German artists, Lovis Corinth, August Macke, Otto Dix and many others although they leave Max Ernst in peace as his birthplace, Bruhl, is 25 mins away by tram and the artist is well represented there. So our mole, mortified at forgetting Max's birthday was at a loss, Beckmann spent the war years in Amsterdam and is well known in Holland, He ended his days in America and is popular there. He did say that Beckmann's work tended to be tethered in private collections and museums and rarely, if ever, was offered for sale, therefore missing the media storms surrounding art auctions, an answer? perhaps.

    The Ludwig's Beckmann collection is housed in a separate room within the marvellous Haubrich bequest, in itself worth the journey. One or two of Beckmann's eerie Frankfurt cityscapes are there as well as some of his sculpture and self portraits, plus this showstopper, strange how the streak of narcissism is strong in some great artists although Beckmann's self portraits are less self flattering than some of the Durers.

    Beckmann, having had a reasonably affluent childhood had the misfortune to find himself working as a medical orderly at Ypres and promptly chucked a wobbler. Recuperating in Frankfurt seems to have kind of banished the blues but, for me, his experiences show through in his art, like van Gogh, he wears his soul upon his sleeve, the work a representation of his angst.

    The museum threw up one of those unintended surreal happenings, the Hockney exhibition had just finished and some of the work is still there, in crates in the corridor, waiting dispatch. Approaching the pile of crates, cordoned off with tape and marked up with complex numbers and 'Hockney' in large magic marker, a large self supporting ladder hovering over them, I though oh no, not another consequence of the old Duchamp philosophy anything can be art if taken out of its original context.

    All was revealed, just some stuff waiting transport, or was it.

  2. Gosh - thanks for that Malty!