Catherine Viviano, New York (acquired from the above in 1986; until 1992)
Galerie Pels-Leusden, Berlin
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1995
New York, Curt Valentin Gallery, n.d. (titled Quappi at the Beach)
Chicago, 1020 Art Center, Max Beckmann, 1955, no. 15 (titled Quappi at the Beach)
Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, Works by Max Beckmann, 1984-85, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Kampen, Galerie Pels-Leusden, Sommergäste, 1994, illustrated in colour on the catalogue cover
Hamburg, Das Bucerius Kunst Forum, Max Beckmann. Menschen am Meer, 2003-04, no. 35, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Benno Reifenberg & Wilhelm Hausenstein, Max Beckmann, Munich, 1949, no. 242 (the 1927 version)
Reinhard Piper, Nachmittag, Erinnerungen eines Verlegers, Munich, 1950, mentioned p. 45
Erhard & Barbara Göpel, Max Beckmann. Katalog der Gemälde, Bern, 1976, vol. I, no. 826, catalogued p. 503; vol. 2, no. 826, illustrated pl. 311
letter to I.B. Neumann, 9th August 1924
Schlafende am Strand was inspired by Beckmann’s visit to Rimini on the Adriatic coast of Italy, where he spent the summer of 1927 with his wife Quappi. While staying at the seaside, Beckmann executed a pencil sketch depicting Quappi reclining on the beach (fig. 3), and completed the present oil in his studio after returning to Frankfurt. Both the drawing and the painting remained first in the artist’s and then in Quappi’s possession until the end of her life, the drawing now forming part of the collection of Museum der Bildenden Künste in Leipzig. Painted three years after they first met, the present work depicts Quappi, who often featured as a model in Beckmann’s works, as an image of beauty and youth.
Beckmann’s earliest depictions of the Adriatic coast date from the summer of 1924, when he travelled to Pirano in Italy (now Slovenia) with his first wife and their son. On the return journey he met Mathilde von Kaulbach, known as Quappi, who was twenty years his junior. Beckmann and Quappi married in September of the following year and returned to Italy for their honeymoon, and again every summer over the following years (fig. 1). In a letter to his dealer Israel Ber Neumann dated 9th August 1924, Beckmann wrote: ‘I spent two weeks in Italy by the Adriatic Sea and saw wonderful things there which I now want to try to recreate. I am painting portraits still lifes landscapes visions of towns rising up out of the sea, beautiful women and grotesque monsters. People bathing and female nudes in short a life – a life that simply exists’ (quoted in Nina Peter, ‘The Painter on the Beach: Beckmann’s Italian Paintings’, in Max Beckmann (exhibition catalogue), Tate Modern, London, 2003, pp. 84 & 90).
This sense of simplicity and joie de vivre is palpable in Schlafende am Strand, and calls to mind Matisse’s nudes depicted in idyllic natural settings (fig. 2). The focus of the composition is on the woman’s body, reclining on a beach with her eyes closed, in a pose of sleepy abandon. Her voluminous figure, depicted with a pronounced sculptural plasticity, takes up almost the entire scope of the canvas, and the curtain framing the composition on the left heightens the impression of the bather being observed by both the artist and the viewer. The background of sea and sand is stripped of any unnecessary detail as the artist centres his attention on depicting the simple, corporeal pleasure of reclining on a sunny beach. As Nina Peter observed: ‘Beckmann’s memories of the beaches of Italy had a lasting influence on his repertoire of motifs. Boats, mariners and the sea return in later paintings – but whereas they were depicted straight from life in the Italian paintings, and presented in the context of their own time, later on they appear in a more fragmentary, mythological guise’ (ibid., p. 90).
The present work has the characteristically narrow format of many of Beckmann’s canvases, with the figure depicted close-up, as if confronting the viewer. Over the following decades Beckmann would often use this format in order to emphasise the sense of anxiety he felt in the years leading up to the war and during the war years. However in his paintings of the 1920s, such as Schlafende am Strand and Quappi in Blau im Boot (fig. 4), the narrowness of the canvas underlines the artist’s focus on the physicality of his model and the sheer joy of depicting his young wife in the idyllic setting of the Adriatic.
The artist himself was evidently fond of this work, as he kept it in his studio until the end of his life, re-working it slightly in 1950 with a tendency to simplify the composition. After Beckmann’s death the painting remained in the possession of his widow Quappi who had moved with the artist to the United States in 1947, and after his death lived in New York. Following Quappi’s death in 1986, Catherine Viviano, whose gallery handled Beckmann’s and Quappi’s estates, kept the work until her own death in 1992, after which it was acquired by the present owner.
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