Academic journal article German Quarterly

Max Beckmann: The Still Lifes

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Max Beckmann: The Still Lifes

Article excerpt

Schick, Karin, and Hubertus Gaßner, eds. Max Beckmann: The StillLifes. Munich, London, and New York: Prestel, 2014. 200 pp. $60.00 (hardcover).

Stimulated by a pioneering 2013 exhibition of Max Beckmann's "small" still lifes at the Franz Marc Museum, the Hamburg Kunsthalle mounted a large showing of several varieties of the genre in 2014. This carefully researched and beautifully illustrated catalogue is a superb guide to many different aspects of the still lifes in relation to his oeuvre at large. Less numerous and less studied than the figurative pieces and landscapes, the sensuous, intense, and meditative still lifes nonetheless embrace, inform, and invade much of his practice.

Sophisticated, skeptical, and internationally rounded, Beckmann was shaken by World War I, the contemporary economic crises, and the rise of Fascism and Nazism. After four years in Nazi Berlin he fled to Amsterdam upon his inclusion in the 1937 "Degenerate Art" exhibition, but was stranded in Holland by the war and German occupation. He spent the last three years of his life in the United States, where he died unexpectedly in 1950 at age sixty-six.

The catalogue's essays trace Beckmann's fundamentally realistic undertaking with scrupulous attention to form and to his detailed painting list, correspondence, diaries, and theoretical writings; the watercolors of the Amsterdam living quarters produced by his second wife, Mathilde (Quappi) Beckmann; and several of the small objects employed. Curator Karen Schick recognizes directions and preoccupations few have previously noted as she traces his "reactivations" of some of those items-a Caribbean conch shell; an elephant lamp; silver candle sticks; a Chinese toad incense burner; and Peruvian stirrup, Cameroons Grasslands, and Danish vessels-from the everyday to the surreal. Christiane Zeiller distinguishes the ways in which Beckmann sized up objects through drawing in studies or completed still lifes, and came to insist that students learn the forms of nature intimately in order to free their invention. Simon Kelly relates the efflorescence of the American still lifes to Beckmann's renewed experience of teaching. …

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