Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale


Max Beckmann
1884 - 1950
signed Beckmann, dated 39  and inscribed T. (lower right)
oil on canvas
81 by 60cm., 31⅞ by 23⅝in.
Painted in 1939.
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Stephan Lackner, Santa Barbara (acquired directly from the artist circa 1939-46; sale: Sotheby's, New York, 8th May 2002, lot 46)
Purchased at the above sale by the late owner 


Oakland, The Mills College Art Museum, Max Beckmann, 1950, no. 11 (titled as The Fisherman)
Santa Barbara, The Santa Barbara Museum of Art; San Francisco, The Museum of Art; Pasadena, The Pasadena Art Institute, Max Beckmann, 1955, no. 38
Pasadena, The Pasadena Art Museum, Max Beckmann, 1959, no. 1359 (titled as Demons fishing for souls)
Santa Barbara, University Art Gallery, University of California, Max Beckmann, 1959, no. 10 (titled as Demons fishing for souls)
Bremen, Kunsthalle Bremen; Berlin, Akademie der Künste; Karlsruhe, Badischer Kunstverein; Lucerne, Kunstmuseum Lucerne; Linz, Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz, Wolfgang Gurlitt-Museum & Vienna, Wiener Secession, Max Beckmann, Gemälde und Aquarelle der Sammlung Stephan Lackner, USA; Gemälde Handzeichnungen und Druckgraphik aus dem Besitz der Kunsthalle Bremen, 1966-67, no. 6
Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Grosse Orangerie, Zeichen des Glaubens-Geist der Avantgarde, 1980
Munich, Haus der Kunst; Berlin, Nationalgalerie; St. Louis, The Saint Louis Art Museum & Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, Max Beckmann - Retrospective, 1984-85, no. 87
Paris, Fondation Dina Vierny, Musée Maillol, Le Feu sous les cendres - De Picasso à Basquiat, 2005-06


Benno Reifenberg, Max Beckmann, Munich, 1949, no. 424, illustrated p. 76
Stephan Lackner, Max Beckmann, Memories of a Friendship, Florida, 1969, p. 73
Wilhelm Friedhelm Fischer, Max Beckmann Symbol und Weltbild, Munich, 1972, illustrated pl. VI
Erhard & Barbara Göpel, Max Beckmann, Katalog der Gemälde, Berne, 1976, vol. I, no 526, illustrated p. 330; vol. II, no. 526, illustrated p. 138
Stephan Lackner, Ich erinnere mich gut an Max Beckmann, Mainz, 1976, illustrated pp. 79, 89 & 108
Stephan Lackner, Max Beckmann, New York, 1991, no. 38, illustrated p. 34

Catalogue Note

Beckmann, accompanied by his wife and aided by his sister-in-law, fled Germany in 1937, the year in which Hitler delivered his infamous radio speech condemning so-called ‘entartete Kunst’ (Degenerate Art). That year, over 500 of Beckmann’s paintings and drawings were confiscated from German museums, some of which were sent to the Nazi organised degenerate art exhibition in Munich. It was the last time he would step foot in Germany, and was followed by ten years of self-imposed exile and poverty in Amsterdam during which time he desperately tried to obtain the required permissions to emigrate to the United States. His time in Amsterdam was punctuated by occasional visits to Paris, which is where he spent the spring of 1938-39 and began painting Kinder dis Zwielichts, although he did not consider it completed until adding his signature in 1950, an act which took place at Mills College in Oakland, California. Before becoming part of the legendary collection of Jan Krugier, the work’s first and only previous owner was the German-American author and art collector, Stephan Lackner. Lackner purchased his first Beckmann work aged only eighteen, and met the artist several years later in 1933 when negotiating the purchase of a painting he had seen in the storerooms of the Angermuseum in Erfurt, which were piled high with stock from Beckmann’s recent exhibition which had been prematurely shut down as part of the Nazi propaganda push. Beckmann was impressed with this young author, who had been courageous enough to support an outlawed artist, one of the only testimonies of support he received at this time, despite having enjoyed a successful career over the last decade. The two became close friends, and ultimately Lackner came to own the world’s largest and most important private collection of Beckmann’s work.

It was Lackner who first translated the title of the Kinder Des Zwielichts as Demons Fishing for Souls, an interpretation which seems fitting for the painting’s ominous subjects. Beckmann himself also referred to the work as Orkus (Hades), which could refer to both the setting and the central figure, who wears upon his head a thorn-like crown. Beckmann responded to the human drama of the war with a surge of intense creativity - he produced over two hundred pictures in his years of exile in Amsterdam – and, as such, the trauma of death and dying is an ever-present dimension in his œuvre from this period. Throughout the 1930s, he became increasingly occupied with mythologised references to the brutalities of the Nazi regime, and here, the predatory demons who sit fishing create an inescapably threatening atmosphere. The ‘Sortie’ scrawled upon the wall could perhaps be read as Beckmann’s wry comment on the unpredictable nature of fate: some will be able to escape, slip past the children of the twilight towards the exit, just like some souls will avoid the torment of capture, but others will not be so lucky.

This underworld is characterised by the typical claustrophobic approach to composition which Beckmann often employed for his paintings of terror and suffering, including The Night (1918-19, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf) and Birds’ Hell (1938, St. Louis Art Museum), and together with the thick black outlines, create a bold image reminiscent of stained glass panel. Towards the back of the work float mysterious white figures, who look on from the edge of the river. Whether these are redeemed souls, figures in purgatory or terrified observers is an enduring secret of this enigmatic and powerful work. Throughout his artistic career, Beckmann sought to be modern whilst also aligning himself with the traditions of the medieval world and old masters, and here he uses his classical subject to express the mysteries of eternity and fate which must have felt all the more potent in Europe as war approached. 

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale