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Press release

Max Beckmann in New York

Max Beckmann in New York

October 19, 2016–February 20, 2017

Exhibition location: The Met Fifth Avenue, Gallery 199
Press Preview: Monday, October 17, 10 am–noon

Max Beckmann in New York at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 20, 2017, puts a spotlight on the artist’s special connection with New York City. It features 14 paintings that Beckmann created while living in New York from 1949 to 1950, as well as 25 works, dating from 1920 to 1948, from New York collections. The exhibition assembles several groups of iconic works, including self-portraits; mythical, expressionist interiors; robust, colorful portraits of women and performers; landscapes; and triptychs.

The exhibition is made possible by The Isaacson-Draper Foundation.

It is supported by an Indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

In late December 1950, Beckmann set out from his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to see his Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket (1950), which was on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the exhibition American Painting Today. However, on the corner of 69th Street and Central Park West, the 66-year-old artist suffered a fatal heart attack and never made it to the Museum. The poignant circumstance of the artist’s death served as the inspiration for the exhibition.

During the late 1920s, Max Beckmann (1884–1950) was at the pinnacle of his career in Germany—his work was presented by prestigious art dealers; he taught at the Städel Art School in Frankfurt and moved in a circle of influential writers, critics, publishers, and collectors. After the National Socialists denounced his work as “degenerate” and confiscated it from German museums in 1937, Beckmann left the country and immigrated to Holland, where he remained for 10 years. After the war, and after rejecting offers to teach in Berlin and Munich, Beckmann accepted a temporary teaching position in Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1947. He made his move to America permanent in 1948, seeing his emigration as marking the end of his exile. In early September 1949 he moved to New York City, which he described as “a prewar Berlin multiplied a hundredfold,” and began teaching at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. He and his wife Mathilde “Quappi” Beckmann first lived at 234 East 19th Street, between Second and Third Avenues, moving in May 1950 to 38 West 69th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. Life in Manhattan energized him and resulted in such powerful pictures as Falling Man (1950) and The Town (City Night) (1950).

Though Beckmann was new to the city, his work was not. Before his arrival, it had been known in New York for more than two decades through the efforts of two art dealers from Berlin, J. B. Neumann and Curt Valentin. Important paintings by the artist dating from the 1920s through the 1940s entered public and private collections in New York as a result of the close relationships Neumann and Valentin forged with collectors. Both dealers also befriended Alfred H. Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art from 1929 to 1943. With Barr, Neumann was instrumental in conceiving the museum’s exhibition German Painting and Sculpture in spring of 1931. Eight works by Beckmann dating from 1921 to 1929 were included in the exhibition.

Among the first private collectors of his work was the German-born Dr. Hirschland, who, before 1930, acquired from Neumann the important Self-Portrait on Yellow Ground with Cigarette (1923), which he bequeathed to the Museum of Modern Art in 1956. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, one of the founders of the museum, in 1931 purchased Family Picture (1920) from Neumann; she then gave it to the Museum of Modern Art in 1935, where it was joined in 1942 by Barr’s purchase of the artist’s first triptych, Departure (1932, 1933–35). These early prominent collectors were followed by generations of others whose contributions will be on view in this exhibition at The Met.

Exhibition Credits and Related Information

Max Beckmann in New York is organized by Sabine Rewald, the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Curator for Modern Art in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the assistance of Michele Wijegoonaratna, Research Associate in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Sabine Rewald that features fresh archival material on the artist, shedding new light on his time in New York. The catalogue is published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and is available in the Museum’s book shop ($45).

The catalogue is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Related programs include a Friday Focus program, an Artist on Artworks, exhibitions tours, and a gallery talk in American Sign Language.

The exhibition is featured on The Met website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter via the hashtag #MaxBeckmann.


Updated October 21, 2016

Image: Max Beckmann (German, Leipzig 1884–1950 New York). Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket, 1950. Oil on canvas. Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May. SL.9.2016.24.1, © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

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