Lot 145
  • 145

Max Beckmann

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 USD
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  • Max Beckmann
  • Signed and dated Beckmann St. L. 48 (lower left)

  • Oil on canvas
  • 29 by 21 in.
  • 73.5 by 53.4 cm


Estate of the artist
Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York
Acquired from the above circa 1954


Roslyn Harbor, Nassau County Museum of Art, Max Beckmann, 1984-85, no. 5


The Artist’s Handlist, St. Louis, 1948: "I) Liegender Akt in starker Verkürzung. 25. Januar, 2. März, beendet 20. Mai 1948"
Benno Reifenberg and Wilhelm Hausenstein, Max Beckmann, Munich, 1949, no. 633, listed p. 81 (titled Liegender weiblicher Akt)
Erhard and Barbara Göpel, ed., Max Beckmann, Katalog der Gemälde, Bern 1976, vol. I, no. 767, catalogued p. 461; vol. II, no. 767, illustrated pl. 281

Catalogue Note

In August 1947 Beckmann left Holland with his wife Quappi, and emigrated to the United States, where he spent the rest of his life.  Having first arrived in New York, the couple stayed there for several days visiting friends who had fled Germany during the war, and on September 17th they arrived in St. Louis, where Beckmann had accepted a teaching post in the School of Fine Arts at Washington University.  Despite the language barrier, the artist spent several semesters teaching at the university, often with the help of Quappi who translated his lectures.  He befriended many artists during his stay in St. Louis, and in 1950 received a honorary doctorate from the university.  Already a well known artist in Europe, Beckmann quickly established himself in the States, helped by Curt Valentin, his New York based dealer.  Valentin introduced the artist to his friend Perry Rathbone, who in 1948 organized Beckmann’s first retrospective exhibition that was held at the City Art Museum in St. Louis, and traveled to major museums in Los Angeles, Detroit, Baltimore and Minneapolis.

In the artist’s Handlist kept during his years at St. Louis, Beckmann mentions the present work as having begun on January 25th, then revisited on March 2nd, and completed on May 20th , 1948.  Its subject is a semi-nude female figure, who appears to be seated in an interior or, as the artist’s title suggests, reclining, depicted in a sharply foreshortened perspective.  Her body is deliberately distorted, exposing the curving forms of her hips and legs in the foreground.  Her head, dominated by her long, flowing dark hair, is supported by a raised arm.  Set against a dark interior, the composition is dominated by the pink, flashy tones of her skin, her body filling the picture frame with a monumental, almost sculptural force.  Confronting the viewer with her frontal pose, the nude is at the same time sensuously seductive and threatening.  The open gesture of her raised arm, the transparent quality of her robe and the jewelry adorning her figure invite the viewer’s gaze, whilst her alert pose and her monumental body outlined in sharp black brush-strokes, confront the viewer with an almost primitive intensity.

Although in the early days of his career Beckmann often spoke against French avant-garde art, his more mature works show formal and coloristic affinities with artists such as Matisse, Léger and Picasso (see fig. 2).  In taking up the theme of the reclining female nude, Beckmann follows a long-established tradition in Western art.  The scarcely draped nude figure in the present work, as well as the exaggerated curves of her lower body, are reminiscent of Amedeo Modigliani’s celebrated La Belle Romaine (see fig. 3).  Furthermore, by placing his sitter on a brightly colored red carpet with a geometrical motif, the artist recalls numerous Odalisques painted by Henri Matisse, reclining in highly ornamented, oriental interiors (see fig. 4).   However, while Modigliani’s and Matisse’s nudes appear to be at ease in their surroundings and in harmony with their environment, Beckmann’s figure assumes a more forceful, almost menacing presence, which takes it roots in the German artistic tradition.

Writing about Beckmann’s works created during his years in America, Peter Selz commented: "A man enormously attached to the physical aspects of life, Beckmann appreciated an atmosphere so much freer and more opulent than his restricted life in Amsterdam had been.  He liked meeting people, going to parties, dressing up for masquerades, visiting cabarets, drinking champagne. […] Perhaps he saw the physical aspects of life as a step to the metaphysical, perhaps he enjoyed them on their own account.  After all, as he mentioned very early in his career, quality in art ‘is the feeling for the peach-colored glimmer of the skin, for the gleam of a nail, for the artistic-sensuous… for the appeal of the material.’ While the style and meaning of his art had changed considerably […], the importance of the physicality of his work remained paramount" (P. Selz, "The Years in America", in Max Beckmann Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Saint Louis Art Museum, 1984, p. 161).

Fig. 1, Max Beckmann, Atelier (Weiblicher Akt und Skulptur), 1946, oil on canvas, The Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Nu dans un fauteuil rouge, 1932, oil on canvas, Tate Modern, London
Fig. 3, Amedeo Modigliani, Nu assis sur un divan (La Belle Romaine), 1917, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 4, Henri Matisse, Odalisque, 1921-22, oil on canvas, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris