- Max Beckmann
- DAME MIT SPIEGEL (LADY WITH A MIRROR)
- signed Beckmann and dated A43 (lower left)
- oil on canvas
- 100.5 by 70.5cm.
- 39 1/2 by 27 3/4 in.
Hildebrandt Gurlitt, Germany (acquired from the artist)
Private Collection, Germany
Galerie Werner Rusche, Cologne
Private Collection (acquired in the 1950s)
Dusseldorf, Kunsthalle, Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts aus rheinisch-westfälischem Privatbesitz, 1967, no. 29, illustrated in the catalogue pl. 65
Erhard and Barbara Göpel, Max Beckmann, Katalog der Gemälde, Bern, 1976, vol. I, no. 635, catalogued pp. 382-83; vol. II, no. 635, illustrated pl. 229
Painted in 1943, Dame mit Spiegel was created during the most fruitful and inventive phase of Beckmann’s career, which occurred while he was living in exile in Amsterdam during the Second World War. Many of his works executed during this time are considered the most important of his œuvre, including imposing self-portraits and mythologically-inspired triptychs depicting scenes of plight and peril. Beckmann and his wife Quappi came to Amsterdam from Berlin on 19th July 1937, the same day that the infamous ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition opened at the Kunsthaus in Munich. Their relocation was one of political necessity, as the avant-garde Beckmann was already being singled-out by authorities as a potentially subversive presence within the Reich. The artist was constantly ill at ease during the ten years he spent in Amsterdam, where his gruff countenance and thick German accent were considered off-putting by his wary Dutch neighbours. But what he might have lacked in satisfying experiences, Beckmann made up for in his art. Before moving to the United States in 1947, the artist summed up his time in Holland in a letter to his friend, Stephan Lackner: ‘May I report about myself that I have had a truly grotesque time, full to the brim with work, Nazi persecutions, bombs, hunger and always again work – in spite of everything’ (quoted in Max Beckmann Retrospect (exhibition catalogue), St. Louis Museum of Art, 1984, p. 155).
In Dame mit Spiegel Beckmann presents a scene of a woman at her toilette. The figure is presumably Quappi, whose features could be recognised in many of the works that Beckmann painted during this period. Quappi was Beckmann’s second wife and twenty years his junior, and, according to Carla Schulz-Hoffmann, her image in Beckmann’s pictures represents ‘beauty and youth, and remains unaffected by the circumstances of outer life’ (ibid., p. 292). This work is similar to another painting of a woman, titled Inderin (fig. 1) executed around the same time, that depicts a reclining woman wearing a bindi and turban. The present work is more elaborately stylised, and the patterned wall paper, the Orientalist turban, the open vessel in the foreground, and curly-queued designs are reminiscent of Matisse’s colourful and ornately patterned depictions of odalisques from the 1920s (fig. 2). In contrast to the women in Matisse’s pictures, though, Beckmann’s female figure is less of an idealised beauty and more of a modern-day woman of the 1940s, smoking her cigarette.
Like his triptychs and the many symbolic self-portraits that Beckmann painted in Amsterdam, this work is full of symbolism and cryptic narrative. A woman in the foreground looks into a hand mirror, while a larger mirror in the background presents a reflection that is clearly not her own. Thematically, the work calls to mind Diego Velazquez’s Venus at her Mirror of 1644-48, now at the National Gallery, London (fig. 3), in which a woman is seen from the back, while her face appears in a mirror to her left. But in this painting, Beckmann subverts our visual expectations and shows us a reflection of another woman without a turban and wearing a different dress. The disjunctive effect of this image, rich with interpretative possibility, is typical of Beckmann. The artist also employed the hand mirror as a symbol of self-reflection and selective vision in another work of 1943, Les Artistes mit Gemüse (fig. 4).
The first owner of this work was the German art historian Hildebrand Gurlitt, an early supporter of Beckmann’s art. Gurlitt had organised exhibitions of Beckmann’s work in 1933 and again in 1936, despite the growing criticism of the German government who were opposed to the artist’s abstract, ‘degenerate’ style of painting. Even during the war, when ‘degenerate’ art was actively confiscated and destroyed by the Nazis, Gurlitt remained one of the many sympathetic German collectors and admirers of Beckmann’s paintings.
Fig. 1, Max Beckmann, Inderin, 1943, oil on canvas, Städische Galerie, Hannover
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Femme nue au bonnet turc, 1955, oil on canvas, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris
Fig. 3, Diego Velazquez, Venus at her Mirror, 1644-48, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London
Fig. 4, Max Beckmann, Les Artistes mit Gemüse, 1943, oil on canvas, Washington University Gallery of Art, St. Louis