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Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
Max Beckmann was born in Leipzig and settled in Berlin in 1904. His first solo show came in 1912. Beckmann taught art in Frankfurt am Main from 1915, but was dismissed from his post by the Nazi Party in 1933. His art was condemned as Entartete Kunst (degenerate art) by the Nazis in 1937. Many of his works represent scenes from everyday life. They often show grotesque, mutilated bodies, and are seen as commenting on the wrong-doings of the German government in the 1920s and 1930s.
Tuxedo
Paris Society
Olive and Brown
Fallen Candles
Beginning
Blind Man's Buff
Prodigal Son

Viewer

Beginning, 1949

Oil on canvas

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. At first, he focused on biblical scenes, but during the 1920s he realized more contemporary allegories and painted devastatingly realistic portraits and figure paintings that were associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Realism) 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, and 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.

The theme that connects the three panels of "Beginning," the most autobiographical of Beckmann's ten triptychs, is a childhood dream. The central panel shows a playroom where a little boy in military costume brandishes a sword as he mightily rides a rocking horse. His Puss 'n Boots doll hangs upside down behind him, presumably slayed by his weapon. The noise he makes has alarmed his parents (seen at the left near the ladder), who have climbed up to inspect his attic kingdom. More prominently placed is the figure of a redheaded woman who reclines seductively, blowing blue bubbles from a pipe. Squeezed between the boy and his fantasy is an old grandmother reading a newspaper. To the left and right, on separate panels, Beckmann painted other memories from his childhood a hurdy-gurdy grinder and a classroom with teacher and students.
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