ART 4 2-DAY 12 February v.10.10
Born on 12 February 1621: Jacques
Courtois le Bourguignon, French painter who
died on 14 November 1676.
Jacques Courtois and his brother Guillaume (1628-1679) were active in Italy and often known by the Italian forms of the names, Giacomo and Guglielmo Cortese. They came from Burgundy and both had the nickname Il Borgognone or Le Bourguignon. Jacques was a prolific painter of battle scenes, fairly close in style to those of Salvator Rosa, but more colorful. Courtois is an example of a painter who has escaped notice in terms of art history, because of both his isolation from his native Franche Comté (incorporated into France by Louis XIV) and his lack of association with Italian art, even though he spent his whole career in Rome. Courtois evolved the archetypal small battle piece, depicting plenty of violence and the smoke of combat, a format that was to remain standard right up to the end of the eighteenth century, though few of its exponents were French. Authentic works by Courtois frequently appear on the art market, but much of his oeuvre has till to be identified.
–- Battle Between Turks and Christians (1660, 60x72cm; 922x1129pix, 188kb _ .ZOOM to 1844x2258pix, 733kb)
–- After the Battle (1660, 60x72cm; 922x1118pix, 45pix _ .ZOOM to 1844x2236pix, 609pix)
The Battle of Mongiovino (138x276cm) _ The painting is one of a series of battle pieces representing the victories of the patron, in this instance against the troops of Pope Urban VIII in 1643. The painting is signed in the center by the Italian name of the artist: Iacomo Cortesi.
— La Bataille de Moïse, Josué défait les Amalécites (126x198cm; 445x700pix, 179kb) _ Le sujet est tiré de l'Exode (XVII, 8-16). Moïse se tenait sur la montagne au cours du combat qui opposait les Juifs et la Amalécites. Les Israélites l'emportaient tant qu'il étendrait les bras. Aaron et Hur le soutiendront jusqu'au coucher du soleil.
— Josué arrêtant le soleil (126x198cm) _ Le sujet est tiré du Livre de Josué (X, 12-13). Josué demandera à Dieu d'arrêter le soleil et la lune pour remporter une bataille contre les Amoréens. Ce miracle répétera celui de Moïse durant la bataille contre les Amalécites.
— Bataille d'Arbelles, 331 av. J.C. (188x328cm; 402x726pix, 78kb poor definition)
— Rencontre de Cavaliers (74x96cm; 474x600pix, 85kb poor definition)
>Died on 12 February 1942: Grant
DeVolson Wood, US Regionalist
painter born on 13 February 1892.
Grant Wood was born in Anamosa, Iowa. He lived most of his life in Iowa, and is known, along with Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, as the third in the Regionalist painters triad. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1912; and at the Academie Julian in Paris around 1920, and upon his return to Iowa began seriously painting. He died in 1942 in Iowa City.
Grant Wood was one of the major exponents of Midwestern Regionalism, a movement that flourished in the United States during the 1930s. Perceptive insight combined with dry caricature make Wood's figurative paintings outstanding among the works of the US Regionalist school. His landscapes sometimes have an air of the deliberately primitive. The tension he sets up between his scrupulously veristic detail and the psychological impactof an overwhelming sense of "presence" raises his best work above most Regionalist painting to the level of truly memorable art.
Grant Wood adopted the precise realism of 15th-century northern European artists, but his native Iowa provided the artist with his subject matter. American Gothic depicts a farmer and his spinster daughter posing before their house, whose gabled window and tracery, in the American Gothic style, inspired the painting's title. In fact, the models were the painter's sister and their dentist. Wood was accused of creating in this work a satire on the intolerance and rigidity that the insular nature of rural life can produce; he denied the accusation. American Gothic is an image that epitomizes the Puritan ethic and virtues that he believed dignified the Midwestern character.
Born and raised in Iowa, Grant Wood became one of the US's best-known Regionalists, along with Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry. He was trained in various crafts, woodworking, metalworking, and jewelry making, before attending painting and drawing classes at the Art Institute of Chicago (1913–1916). During the 1920s Wood traveled to Europe four times, visiting Paris, Italy, and Germany. The most important lessons he brought back were from Munich, where he was impressed by the contemporary art movement known as the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), which rejected abstraction in favor of an orderly, realistic art. He also admired the primitive Flemish and German painters, particularly the way in which they depicted mythological or biblical stories in contemporary costumes and settings, making them more relevant to the viewer than strict history paintings. Back in Iowa, Wood applied these ideas to his depictions of ordinary life. His work, like that of the other Regionalist painters, rejected the abstract modernist currents of European art in an effort to forge a realistic style that could depict typically American subjects. Wood first came to public attention in 1930, when his painting American Gothic won a medal at the Art Institute of Chicago. Unlike his modernist contemporaries, Wood remained committed to depicting regional life in America and, he hoped, the creation of a national style.
Grant Wood was born on a farm near Anamosa, Iowa. After his father’s death in 1901, the Wood family moved to Cedar Rapids where Grant attended school and even at an early age revealed his artistic talent. He and his friend, Marvin Cone, made scenery for plays and drawing for their high school yearbook and both were enthusiastic volunteers at the Cedar Rapids Art Association. On the night of his high school graduation in 1910, Grant Wood boarded a train for Minneapolis where he enrolled in art school. He returned home in 1911 and began teaching in a one-room country school. In 1913, he moved to Chicago to attend the Art Institute and worked in a silversmith shop. Later, after serving in the Army as a camouflage painter, Wood once again returned to Cedar Rapids and taught art in the public schools.
Between 1920 and 1928, the artist made four trips to Europe, the first with Marvin Cone, who remained a close friend throughout his life. While abroad, Grant Wood was exposed to current trends in European painting but concentrated on the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist styles. In this, he was several decades behind European painters but current with most US artists. Wood’s 1928 trip abroad was to Munich, where he supervised the execution of a large stained glass window he had designed for the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids. While in Munich, he responded with great enthusiasm to the paintings of the northern Renaissance masters, particularly the works of Hans Memling. He was attracted to the glowing colors, smooth surfaces, carefully defined outlines and decorative repetition of shapes and patterns which characterize the works of these artists. Such elements can be found in his mature works such as Woman with Plant and Young Corn.
In 1932, Grant Wood and others founded the Stone City Art Colony, an art school and artist’s colony near Anamosa, Iowa, His hope was that the artists who participated in the Colony would create artworks expressing the unique character of the Midwest. “A true art expression,” he wrote, “must grow up from the soil itself.” In 1934, the artist was appointed Director of the PWAP (Public Works of Art Projects) in Iowa. A year later, Wood began teaching at the University of Iowa, an affiliation which continued until his death in 1942. During these same years, Wood also taught and lectured throughout the United States, becoming a spokesman for the concept of Regionalism in art. Grant Wood is recognized as one of the US’s outstanding regional painters. His American Gothic is one of the most recognizable images in Western art. He, along with Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, shaped the US’s vision of the Midwestern landscape and the people that inhabit it.
An extensive illustrated commentary: Going Back to Iowa: the World of Grant Wood
–- Dinner for Threshers (1934, 50x202cm; 1158x4742pix, 405kb)
Stone City, Iowa (1930)
Daughters of the Revolution (1932)
Return from Bohemia (1935)
–- The Perfectionist (1936, 64x50cm; 2076x1581pix, 405kb) half-length monochrome yellow woman in a blue dress; admire the crackled paint, unless you are a perfectionist.
–- Moses, the Baltimore News Vendor (1858, 61x38cm; 2258x1389pix, 293kb)
–- Tame Flowers (1939 lithograph with hand coloring, 16x25cm; 731x1102pix, 75kb)
Gothic (725x597pix, 114kb _ ZOOM
to 1438x1183pix, 123kb) _ Regionalism in US painting developed at the beginning
of the Great Depression in 1929. Exclusively Midwestern in origin, Regionalism
portrayed US life as simple and rural, in direct contrast to the urban-based
Realist paintings that had dominated the US art scene since the turn of
the century. Unlike Realism, Regionalism left no room for social criticism.
So went the theory. In reality, this may not have always been so. Since
first shown at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1930, Grant Wood's American
Gothic has been fodder for speculation. In one camp were those who
believed the painting was a celebration of "American" values; in the other
were those who saw it as a satiric critique of the selfsame thing.
The pair's dour expressions led many outside the Midwest to believe that Wood, a self-proclaimed Regionalist, was poking fun at rural life. Wood himself denied this in some interviews, but in others hinted that there were indeed some satiric elements present. (He wouldn't say which elements those were.) Wood's subjects spurred much of the debate. Was the pair a farmer husband and wife, or a father and daughter? Many Iowa farmers' wives objected to what they perceived as a negative portrayal, writing letters of complaint to the artist. Wood later revealed that the models were his 30-year-old sister Nan and their 62-year-old family dentist B. H. McKeeby.
The subjects' motivations, even when considered as father and daughter, are unclear: The man may be a farmer holding a pitchfork, nothing more than a piece of farming equipment. Or he may not be a farmer at all, but a preacher, perhaps, jealously guarding his daughter from male suitors. Critics who interpret the woman as his daughter have often assumed that she was a spinster -- but just what kind of spinster is left to the imagination. Some see the stray curl at the nape of her neck as related to the snake plant in the background, each one symbolizing a sharp-tongued "old maid." Or the curl may be a sign that she is not as repressed as her buttoned-up exterior might indicate.
The Birthplace of Herbert Hoover, West Branch, Iowa (1931, 75x101cm) _ The notion that anyone can grow up to become president is one of the United States' most beloved and enduring myths. Herbert Hoover rose from humble beginnings in a small midwestern town to become the 31st president of the United States. The precise linear patterns and close attention to details in this painting are hallmarks of Grant Wood's Regionalist style.
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931) _ A year after American Gothic, Wood painted The Ride of Paul Revere, which makes no attempt at historical accuracy — for example, eighteenth-century houses surely would not have been so brightly lit. The picture has a dreamlike sense of unreality. The bird's-eye view makes the setting look like a New England town in miniature. Note the geometric shapes of the buildings and the landscape (even the treetops are perfectly round); the precisely delineated, virtually unmodulated light emanating from the buildings and raking across the foreground; the distinct, regularized shadows; and the way in which the forms in the darker background are almost as clear and visible as those in the brightly lit foreground. With his clean line and his even, unerring hand, Wood has thrown the scene into high relief, heightening reality so as to make it almost otherworldly, a quality that differentiates him from his fellow Regionalists. His precision evokes the work of eighteenth-century US limners.
Woman with Plant (1929, 52x45cm) _ Encircled by a frame of his own making, this portrait of Grant Wood's mother is one of his first works in the Regionalist style for which he became famous. Unlike earlier works which were either locales far from his roots or locations unspecified altogether, this can only be Iowa. Gone are the visible brushstrokes and the dappled sunlight; they are replaced with an incredibly smooth surface and a new solidness to his trees, hills and figures. Wood paints his mother as a symbol for all pioneer women and tells her story through the use of painstaking details such as her weathered hands, her wedding ring and the hardy plant she holds [this plant looks to me like the plant called Mother-in-Law's Tongue for its sharp-pointed leaves. Was Wood aware of that?]. She is so much a part of the land behind her that her eyes are the same color as the sky, her hands are the same color as the corn and her apron is the same color as the rolling hills.
Young Corn (1931, 60x75cm) _ Painted the same year as American Gothic, this landscape was painted as a memorial to a teacher from Wilson School in Cedar Rapids and is an excellent example of Wood's mature vision of rural Iowa. The high horizon line provides ample room for Wood to explore various textures, giving the viewer a sense of the richness and productivity of the land; the message is that Iowa is a place of peace, prosperity and order. The stylized trees and crop furrows are classic Grant Wood; a detail of this painting was used for the Iowa Sequicentennial Commemorative stamp.
Spring Turning (1936) _ Grant Wood, along with Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, was a major US Regionalist painter. Spring Turning has been widely reproduced and is considered one of Grant Wood's masterpieces, second only in importance to his celebrated American Gothic. Grant Wood studied at the Academie Julian in Paris and made several trips to Europe. He returned to his hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa where he found the source of inspiration for his entire artistic career. Spring Turning evidences that, like artists or seamstresses, farmers make abstract art out of their fields. In Spring Turning farmers guide horse-drawn plows to fashion the earth's surface into a gigantic quilt. The vast distances suggested in this picture are a result of the immense scale of the landscape in relationship to the figurative elements, e.g. the farmer and his horse-drawn plow, the cattle on the hillside. Grant Wood explained, "The rhythms of the low hills, the patterns of crops upon them, the mystery of the seasons, and above all, a feeling for the integrity of the ground itself -- these are my deep rooted heritage."
Arnold Comes of Age (1930, 68x58cm) _ What time of year is it--on the left side of the painting? And on the right side of the painting? There is more here than meets the eye! Arnold Comes of Age conveys quite convincingly the traditions of Flemish and late quattrocento portraiture into a US idiom. It was painted in 1930, the same year he completed American Gothic, the work which, more than any other, established the artist's style and regionalist identity.1 Arnold Comes of Age suggests some of the lessons Wood absorbed in Europe. This work portrait of the artist's young friend Arnold Pyle places the subject in the immediate foreground, centrally before a landscape filled with allegorical detail.. Next to the right elbow of this thin, pensive young man, a moth, symbol of metamorphosis, displays patterned wings. In the landscape beyond Arnold, symbolism underscoring the principle of change continues.
Beneath a tree in startling pink foliage, are two young bathers. One stands on the bank of a river that flows across the middle ground of the work; the second figure rather like a trecento painting in which the same character is shown in sequential actions has already entered the water. To the left of the canvas stands another deciduous tree, so placed that only a few of its leaves are visible. These, however, are not pink but green. Beyond this tree and across the river, two shocks of corn stand in bright sunlight. On the right side of the painting, however, the field shows only neat rows of stubble. In the background are two trees, nearly perfect oval masses of foliage; these, however, are not in fall colors, but in the greens of summer. Thus in planes from foreground to background, and in 'panels' at the right and left of the subject, the bathers and the contrast of seasons underscore the passage of time. As the title accurately reports, this work is not simply a depiction of the artist's friend, but an allegorical portrait of Arnold Pyle's transition from adolescence to adulthood. It is a rendering that is not at all satiric, unlike a number of Wood's paintings, but an empathetic representation of a young man who gazes fixedly not at the viewer but, by implication, at his own future.
Born on 12 February 1884: Max
painter who died on 27 December 1950.
— Beckmann was born into a farming family, which gave up its farm and moved to Leipzig after his birth. Beckmann drew from a young age, and in 1900 entered the Weimar Academy of Arts. He married Minna Tube in 1903, and the two moved to Paris. Beckmann also visited Florence and Geneva, before settling in Berlin in 1904. His earliest paintings show the influence of the impressionists. His work was popular, and he was able to make a living from his art.
Beckmann served as a medic in World War I, but was dismissed after he suffered a nervous breakdown. His experiences in the war had a big effect on his art, and were an important factor in pushing his style in a more expressionist direction.
Beckmann taught art in Frankfurt am Main from 1915, but was dismissed from his post by the Nazi Party in 1933. At the beginning of the 30s, he made visits to Paris to paint, and it was around this time that he began to use the triptych format, influenced in part by Hieronymus Bosch [1450 – 09 Aug 1516].
His art was included in the notorious traveling exhibition Entartete Kunst of the Nazis, which opened in Munich on 17 July 1937. The next day Beckmann wisely moved to Amsterdam. In 1947, he moved again to the United States, first to Missouri and later to New York City. He died in 1950 of a heart attack while on his way to see an exhibition of his work at the Metropolitan Museum.
Beckmann painted a number of self-portraits, including Self Portrait in Tuxedo (1927). Many of his other 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 as well as harking back to his World War I experiences.
— Beckmann was trained from 1900 to 1903 at the conservative Weimar Academy, where he was influenced by the idealistic classicism of his master, Hans von Marées. In 1904 Beckmann moved to Berlin, where he adopted the lush brushwork of the German Impressionist Lovis Corinth. In 1906 he joined the prestigious Berlin Sezession, and in the same year he met the Norwegian Expressionist painter Edvard Munch [12 Dec 1863 – 23 Jan 1944], whose morbid, curvilinear compositions influenced Beckmann to develop an Expressionistic style.
Beckmann served as a medical corpsman in World War I. The shock of exposure to dead and maimed soldiers changed his art, filling it with the sordid, often horrifying imagery that characterizes his mature work. The distorted figures of The Descent from the Cross (1917) and its pendant, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1917), illustrate his new style. Many such paintings depict scenes of lust, cruelty, and pain in settings that have symbolic or allegorical overtones. Angular, harshly delineated figures are tightly grouped in a strangely compressed, flattened space that lends a disquieting tension to the scene. In The Night (1919), a scene of nightmarish sadism, the disquieting colors and violent forms convey Beckmann's pessimism over man's bestiality. The portraits, still lifes, and landscapes that he undertook in the 1920s are more conciliatory in mood.
In 1933 the Nazis declared Beckmann's art “degenerate” and forced him to resign his professorship at the Städel School of Art in Frankfurt. He returned to Berlin, where he completed Departure (1933), the first of the large-scale allegorical triptychs that constitute his most important works.
Finding the conditions in Germany intolerable, he fled to Amsterdam in 1937. In 1947 he moved to the United States, where he taught for three years at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Among the most important fruits of his years of exile are such triptychs as The Actors (1942), Carnival (1943), and Blindman's Bluff (1945). Although they retain many of his earlier violent themes, the late triptychs, especially his Argonauts (1950), completed on the day of his death, affirm Beckmann's belief in the ineradicable human spirit. His numerous self-portraits provide a moving record of the artist's spiritual experience.
Beckmann, often hailed as Germany's greatest 20th-century artist, was one of the founders of what we now call modern art.
In Beckmann's 1939 painting Woman with Large Shell and Wine Glass, the vibrant colors are applied with quick, edgy brushstrokes. This painting is a beautiful example of the joyous aspects of Beckmann's work that began during his Paris years.
Max Beckmann is not known for his joyousness. Born in Germany (he died in the US) he is famous for brooding, symbol-laden self-portraiture, for his mastery of the morose. Sometimes mythic and always dramatic, Beckmann may well be the epitome of Expressionism, Germany's great contribution to modern art. It's a style critics came to love; Hitler to hate (and even some Hitler-haters concur with Hitler on this one point). But at the start, he was just a gifted, if romantic, realist.
He was a very fine academic person; he studied the traditions, especially Rembrandt. He was an excellent draftsman; his anatomy was perfect. He had a perfect understanding of human structure.
Beckmann's canvases grew with his ambition. The Titanic, painted in 1912, is as busy as turbulent, as theatrically tragic as the scene it depicts. But it was World War I that forged Beckmann's famed Expressionism. A medic on the front, the artist faced such brutality that he simply broke down. His post war work is radical, dark, and, above all, personally expressive, as in 1917's Christ Saving an Adulteress From Stoning, a Christ who looks a lot like Max Beckmann.
Beckmann was one of the great stars in Germany, one of the hottest painters of the time. For what did he need to go to Paris? He wanted to be a cosmopolitan, a painter recognized on the European level such as Picasso, Matisse, and Braque were recognized internationally. In 1929, Beckmann moved to Paris, to exhibit there and get the French art world to take a German as seriously as it did its own.
In Beckmann's Resting Woman with Carnations, a serene, sensuous figure is set against an intricate, decorative pattern of stylized stripes, tiles, and latticework. This may be compared to Henri Matisse's exotic Odalisque With Green Scarf (or Harem Woman), which was painted in 1926. The model in Beckmann's Resting Woman with Carnations also takes an alluring seated pose. Beckmann's model is his second wife, Quappi. He painted Quappi flamboyantly, dozens of times, in various stages of dress and undress. Part of his new Paris persona: Macho artist with sexy wife.
Beckmann didn't just challenge Matisse, however, but Picasso as well. An example of Picasso's classical style of the 1920's is a portrait called The Reader. Beckmann's response is a woman reading.
The German took up specifically French themes as well: The French seaside is serene to Matisse; to Beckmann, it's an occasion for a bizarre bathing scene.
Rugby teams to France's Robert Delaunay are all color. By contrast, Max Beckmann's tangled web of soccer players by contrast bristles with dark feeling.
Even Beckmann's still-lifes are emotional. Consider a marine comparison: Picasso's catch of the day, almost funny; Braque's flat, formal, elegant. Beckmann's creatures, however, convey menace and a sense of drama in the composition through these enormous teeth that the fish show, giving it a harshness and a forcefulness that goes away from a purely esthetic rendering of objects or shapes.
Ultimately, Beckmann was rejected by France, and not long after, the king of German painting was spurned by his own country as well. A surviving photo shows how mildly this painting had begun in 1933: Beckmann, the proud sovereign; Quappi, his young queen. But in 1937, the Nazis had turned on him, confiscating hundreds of his paintings and taunting several in their infamous degenerate art show. Beckmann reworked this painting in 1937 when he was declared degenerate and made it more brooding and less of a self-portrait than almost like a dark and dramatic painting that almost forebodes the terrible things that are going to come.
Beckmann fled to Holland in 1937, safe in part because his son was a surgeon in the Luftwaffe. There, he painted The Acrobats (1939 triptych: center 199x170cm, sides, 199x90cm each). He sees dark things, ugly things. The paintings take on a gloomy look. There's a Roman soldier with a spear that's a thinly disguised Nazi. There's a bellhop coming in. The bellhop in Beckmann's paintings is always a messenger bringing news of various kinds, usually bad. And the acrobats refers to people who make their living by creativity, who are onstage, disguising themselves, taking different roles, like Beckmann himself, who sometimes played the acrobat.
It was after the war that, fed up with Europe, Beckmann was offered a teaching job in the US, at Washington University in St. Louis. There, art student Wally Barker became his assistant. St. Louis was in a sense Beckmann's Paris, but here, he ruled the roost at last. In 1950, receiving an honorary degree from Washington University, he summed up: "Greatness," he said in his speech, "depends alone on the fertile imagination of the individual. If you love nature with all your heart, new and unimaginable things in art will occur to you." New and unimaginable things: It might as well be the motto of modern art. And if Max Beckmann hasn't attained the stature of his French rivals, well, maybe it's because they're more important, or maybe because his nervy, odd imagery is just a bit harder to appreciate.
Selbstbildnis als Krankenpfleger (1915, 55x38cm) _ Beckmann served in the medical services in eastern Prussia, then in Flanders and at Strasbourg. He was a witness to the first mustard gas attacks around Ypres. At Courtrai, he was present at operations that surgeons attempted on the wounded and made detailed drawings of them. His self portrait is built around three elements: the eye that scrutinizes, the hand that draws, and the red cross. There is hardly any color. A few months later, Beckmann was sent home to Germany after suffering a serious mental breakdown. He sought refuge in Frankfurt where he slowly took up painting again.
Self Portrait in Olive and Brown (1945, 62x50cm)
— Self Portrait in Bowler Hat (1921 etching, 32x24cm; full size, 1262kb) _ Here Beckmann depicts himself as a dandy with a bowler hat, stiff collar, and cigarette. The profile of a cat sitting on a table behind him to the left and an ashtray and kerosene lamp to his right fill out the tight composition. Beckmann created about eighty self-portraits over a career that spanned virtually half a century. He used his own image and persona to delve into the complexities of the human soul, showing the variety of selves that make up an individual. In Self-Portrait in Bowler Hat Beckmann shows that he is every bit the modern man, confident in his powers of observation and cool, critical detachment.
— Self-Portrait (1919 drypoint, 23x19cm; full size, 538kb)
— Self-Portrait in Tuxedo (1927; 1104x749pix, 88kb)
— Self-Portrait with Horn (666x609pix, 53kb _ ZOOM to 1000x912pix, 85kb)
— Self-portrait with red scarf (1917; 636x487pix, 60kb)
— Self-Portrait (1911 lithograph, 25x18cm; 878x706pix, 437kb)
— The “Circus Beckmann” Crier (Self-Portrait) (1921 etching, 34x26cm; 408x307pix, 28kb)
Christ with a Woman Taken in Adultery (1917, 669x560kb, 158kb) _ Beckmann came out of a war very badly hurt, physically and mentally. In this picture you see this guy with blood all over his hands, the guy who's so superior to the adulteress. What Beckmann is actually saying here is a plea for mercy, protecting someone. Beckmann the painter used various modern devices, seeing his subjects from multiple points of view, for instance. You can look down on the feet of Christ. And about halfway up the picture you're looking straight across at him. And at the top of the picture, you're looking up, like we're seeing the underside of the guy's face. Different perspectives on one scene it's what French Cubism was known for: Picasso's double faces, seen at once head-on and in profile; Braque's still-lifes, seen both straight ahead the legs that hold up the table and from above the newspaper and the tabletop itself. Playing with perspective intrigued Beckmann, but he was more interested in emotions, in energy.
— The Skaters (1932, 128x98cm; 1159x883pix _ ZOOM to 2318x1766pix, 3202kb)
— Blind Man's Buff (1945, 206x439cm for 3 panels: 187x102cm left, 207x104cm center, 188x106cm right; 1/12 size _ ZOOM to 1/6 size, 3019kb) This is the most important of the five triptychs created by Max Beckmann while exiled in Holland between 1937 and 1947, a prudent exile considering the Nazi's inclusion of ten of his works in their exhibition of "degenerate art" in 1937. Like much of his art, Blindman's Buff is allusive and symbolic, inviting explication yet resisting explicit interpretation. Yet, the artist's use of the three-paneled format that was traditional to Medieval and Renaissance altarpieces evokes religious associations. Beckmann also drew upon classical sources, calling the figures at center "the gods" and the animal-headed man the "minotaur." Throughout the triptych, figures engage in sensual pleasures in a place where time, represented by a clock without XII or I, has no beginning or end. In sharp contrast on each wing are the blindfolded man and kneeling woman who, like prayerful donors in a Renaissance altarpiece, turn their backs to the confusion behind them.
Family Picture (1920; 650x1000pix, 183kb)
Dancing Bar in Baden Baden (1923; 1000x627pix, 117kb)
Umberto (1500x638pix, 191kb)
Afternoon (1946, 90x134cm; 750x1122kb, 168kb)
The Argonauts (1950 triptych, center panel 80 1/4x48"; side panels each 74 3/8x33", 589x867pix, 101kb) _ The nine triptychs that Beckman created are an incredibly rich and varied repository of pictorial ideas and visions. Their form is a revival of the medieval altarpiece, a shrine whose wings were closed except on holidays when its gospel lore and legends of saints and martyrs were revealed. This historical connotation explains why the wings of Beckmann's triptychs, although they do not close, are usually much narrower than the center panel (see Departure and Temptation).
The Argonauts is the most serene of Beckmann's post-Christian altarpieces. The earlier triptychs show many tortured, shackled, and maimed people, as well as some who are deceived, sadistic, and simply foolish. The figures in The Argonauts are healthy, self-reliant, and enterprising. The elements of lust and baseness were required in the earlier works to set off the spheres of the persecuted hero and the confused dreamer; now, in the last work, the hero as a dreamer, or the dreamer as a hero, has conquered the nightmarish aspects of life. Thus, in retrospect, The Argonauts triptych appears as the logical conclusion of Beckmann's lifelong "passing show."
Beckmann initially called this work The Artists. The bearded, intense, contemporary artist in the left panel, not a self-portrait, was the first figure that Beckmann envisioned. Perhaps he saw this painter as the prime mover of the entire phantasmagoria, in whose mind a modern model is transmuted into the classical figure of Medea. The artist knows that the head on which the woman sits is only a hollow mask, not really a decapitated Greek, and that the sword is but a studio prop. The girl musicians in the right panel are already half-transformed into an antique chorus. In the center panel, the fantasy is victorious; there is no trace of present-day metier left, no smell of studio dust and oil paint, only the clear, salty breeze of antiquity. Art has conquered the prosaic everyday.
The center panel illustrates, quite faithfully, an episode from Greek mythology. Beckmann had read Goethe's translation of an account by Philostratus from the third century BC concerning the Argonauts' voyage to the Black Sea. The young heroes Orpheus and Jason are shown embarking on their search for the Golden Fleece. Orpheus, by his song, has calmed the wild sea and has put down his lyre on the sand. The ancient sea-god Glaucus emerges from the waves to prophesy the fate of the bold travelers; their magic ship, the Argo, will carry them safely to the mist-darkened kingdom of Colchis where they will "liberate" not only the Golden Fleece but also the king's daughter, Medea. This tale is a reflection of the historical first expeditions of the seafaring Greeks to barbarian lands.
Beckmann, to heighten the portent of the sea-god's prophecy, shows sun and moon darkened by a miraculous eclipse and new planets being born. The cosmic menace does not distract the keen youths from their purpose, and the ancient prophet points the way to their heroic, and finally tragic, pursuit. Accept your fate, he seems to admonish them, fulfill your task.
This triptych recalls some of Beckmann's very early pictographs: the darkened sun had already appeared in The Descent from the Cross of 1917. The ladder, one of Beckmann's favorite symbols, led nowhere in the early Dream and thus made cruel fun of a poor mortal searching for an exit from his misery; in The Argonauts the ladder rises out of the primeval ocean straight up into blue eternity: there is a way out, it proclaims.
But the most touching reminiscence is the reprise of the "golden youths" from Beckmann's first large-scale oil painting, Young Men by the Sea of 1905. This composition owes much to the art student's admiration for Luca Signorelli and Hans von Marées. The maturing Beckmann often came back to the gestalt of the slender, dreamy youths with their unselfconscious charm. The center panel of his last work presents them again: thoughtful, willing to risk much for a great purpose, manly, and radiant with the bloom of youth. Forty-five years of relentless artistic effort resulted in this seemingly spontaneous personification of the élan vital.
Through much of Beckmann's career, critics objected to two supposed characteristics of his art: brutality and sex. Beckmann never quite knew why they singled him out, for sex and violence seem to pervade the huge battle scenes and the depictions of rape and martyrdom in so many museums of the world. Beckmann used to say, somewhat naively: "Really, I only wanted to paint beautiful pictures." In The Argonauts this intention is undeniably fulfilled. There is no violence here, and sex, too, has disappeared. The center panel is restricted to male figures, the right to females exclusively. This separation of the sexes, very rare in Beckmann's work, gives an atmosphere of otherworldliness to The Argonauts. Eros and aggression, which are the heritage of the human psyche, are sublimated into a spiritual adventure. A glowing love of beauty and harmony prevails in the end.
— Departure (1933; 756x1130pix, 207kb) with commentary.
— Temptation (709x1202pix, 200kb)
— The Sinking of the Titanic (1912, 265x330cm; 514x641pix, 84kb _ ZOOM to 729x978pix, 122kb)
— The Night (1919, 133x154cm; 554x646pix, 97kb _ ZOOM to 832x969pix, 111kb)
— Hell of the Birds (1938, 120x160cm; 486x652pix, 84kb _ ZOOM to 771x961pix, 97kb)
27 etchings at FAMSF
— 26 Jun - 29 Sep 2003 MOMA exhibition (PDF)