Lot 27
  • 27

Max Beckmann

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 GBP
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  • Max Beckmann
  • Stilleben mit Grammophon und Schwertlilien (Still-Life with Gramophone and Irises)
  • signed Beckmann and dated F24 (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 114.5 by 55.5cm.
  • 45 by 21 7/8 in.


Israel B. Neumann, Munich & New York (acquired by 1927)

Günther Franke, Munich (acquired from the above)

Heinrich Fromm, Munich & London (acquired circa 1930)

Private Collection, Europe (by descent from the above. Sold: Christie's, New York, 6th November 2007, lot 60)

Purchased at the above sale


Frankfurt, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Ausstellung Max Beckmann: 26 Gemälde, Graphik aus den Jahren 1910-1924, 1924, no. 24

Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Internationale Kunstausstellung, 1925, no. 34 (titled Interieur)

New York, New Art Circle I.B. Neumann, Max Beckmann, 1927, no. 4, illustrated in the catalogue

Frankfurt, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Max Beckmann, 1929, no. 2

Basel, Kunsthalle, Max Beckmann, 1930, no. 41 (titled Interieur mit Grammophon und Spiegel)

Munich, Glaspalast, Deutsche Kunstausstellung München, 1930, no. 181 (titled Stilleben mit Maske im Spiegel)

Dresden, Galerie Neue Kunst Fides Leitung Rudolf Probst, Max Beckmann: Gemälde und Zeichnungen aus den Jahren 1906-1930, 1930

Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Ausstellung der Kestner-Gesellschaft, Max Beckmann Gemälde und Graphik 1906 bis 1930, 1931, no. 14

Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Max Beckmann, 1955-56, no. 19 (titled Intérieur mit Grammophon und Spiegel)

Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne; Munich, Haus der Kunst & Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Max Beckmann, 1968-69, no. 22

Frankfurt, Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut, Max Beckmann, Frankfurt 1915-1933, 1983-84, no. 33, illustrated in the catalogue

Munich, Haus der Kunst; Berlin, Nationalgalerie; St. Louis, The St. Louis Art Museum & Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Max Beckmann - Retrospective, 1984-85, no. 38, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Mannheim, Kunsthalle Mannheim (on extended loan 1993-2007)


The Artist's Handlist 1924, listed as Stilleben mit Grammophon und Schwertlilien

C. Adolph Glassgold, 'Max Beckmann', in The Arts, 1927, vol. XI, illustrated p. 246 (titled Interior with Flowers and Phonograph)

Erna von Watzdorf, 'Max Beckmann in der Dresdner Fides', in Chemnitzer Anzeiger, November 1930

Benno Reifenberg & Wilhelm Hausenstein, Max Beckmann, Munich, 1949, no. 199 (titled Interieur mit Grammophon und Spiegel)

Peter Beckmann, 'Max Beckmann - Ausstellung München 1968 Haus der Kunst', in Elegante Welt 58, 1969, no. 2, illustrated p. 84

Friedhelm Wilhelm Fischer, Max Beckmann: Symbol und Weltbild, Munich, 1972, p. 85

Erhard & Barbara Göpel, Max Beckmann: Katalog der Gemälde, Bern, 1976, vol. I, no. 231, catalogued pp. 170-171; vol. II, no. 231, illustrated pl. 83

Reinhard Spieler, Max Beckmann: Der Weg zum Mythos, Cologne, 1994, illustrated in colour p. 53

Max Beckmann, un peintre dans l'histoire (exhibition catalogue), Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 2002, illustrated in colour p. 254

Max Beckmann: A Dream of Life (exhibition catalogue), Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, 2006, mentioned p. 62


The canvas is unlined. There is one tiny spot of retouching in the lower right corner visible under ultra-violet light. This work is in very good original condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although the blues are slightly richer in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Max Beckmann’s Stilleben mit Grammophon und Schwertlilien, painted in 1924, is an exceptional work from the artist’s formative years in Frankfurt. As one of the leading artistic figures working in Germany during the 1920s, Beckmann became a figurehead for the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement which sought to explore aspects of modern life in the wake of the First World War. This ‘New Objectivity’ with which Beckmann approached his art is manifest in this masterfully composed still-life rich with his personal mythological signifiers. At the centre of the composition, surrounded by musical instruments and scores, stands a vase of irises, and upon which is written ‘(An)denk(en) (Frank)furt’ (Souvenir of Frankfurt), and amidst this chaotic arrangement Beckmann has introduced a note of pure theatricality in the form of the masked figure in the looking glass. The masks, mirrors and curtains that make up the world of Beckmann’s imagination are carnivalistic and possess a faintly sinister glamour which pervades many of his other important works from this period, such as the Selbstbildnis als Clown (fig. 1) and Vor dem Maskenball(fig. 3).

Franz Roh, who wrote the seminal text Nach-Expressionismus in 1925, discerned the exceptional qualities of Beckmann’s inter-bellum paintings. He recognised the way in which the artist was abandoning the heightened manner of the Expressionist painters in favour of a more tangible and meaningful reality. ‘The new objective painting was of necessity all the more readily interpreted as a sign of this revolution in thought and feeling, because abstractness was considered the artistic manifestation of the expressionist attitude of mind’ (quoted in Peter Selz, Max Beckmann (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art,  New York, 1964, pp. 37-38). Beckmann’s response to the demands of this new aesthetic was dramatic: 'Oh, this infinite space! We must constantly fill up the foreground with junk so that we do not have to look in its frightening depth. What would we poor people do, if we would not always come up with some idea like country, love, art, and religion with which we can again and again cover up that dark black whole' (quoted in P. Selz, ibid., p. 23).

Discussing the significance of the key motifs in Stilleben mit Grammophon und Schwertlilien, Cornelia Stabenow writes: ‘The flowers, the instrument and horned animal skull work as traditional, inherited motifs on the theme of transience, which is also taken up by the other objects’. Stabenow explains in vivid terms how each object bears anthropomorphic intent, such as how the stool in the lower right appears as though possessed by the soul of a ‘demonic’ cat. Stabenow also suggests that the image of the woman in the mirror could be a disguised portrait of Dr Hildegard Melms – known as Naïla – with whom Beckmann had an affair in 1923. (C. Stabenow in op. cit. (exhibition catalogue), Haus der Kunst, Munich, 1984-85, nos. 225-226).

During the early 1920s Beckmann conceived this idiosyncratic idiom of objects which documented both his personal relationships and artistic aspirations. Central to this visual language was the use of musical instruments and scores which feature in numerous paintings from the time (fig. 3). Beckmann was passionate about music - to the extent that he was known to have refused to hold a conversation whilst a piece of music, either live or recorded, was playing in the same room. Both of the artist’s wives were talented musicians: his first, Minna Beckmann-Tube was an opera singer, and his second, Mathilde von Kaulbach (known as Quappi) was a violinist and the daughter of a celebrated portraitist from Munich. Reinhard Speiler discusses the position of music within the artist’s work: ‘Beckmann gave musical instruments an important formal role, and integrated them into his system of iconographical requisites, which were in each instance closely linked with specific realms of meaning. Above all, there were two formal elements which Beckmann continually extracted from various types of instruments which are striking: on the one hand, there are the markedly round forms with a deep funnel-shaped gorge, which he associated predominantly with brass instruments… and on the other, there are curved string instruments with long necks also ending in rounded forms, but remains flat and characterised by a linear articulation […]. Basically a masculine-phallic symbolism with respect to the protruding brass instruments and the femininely-charged meaning of the curving, bellied string instruments, such as violins or mandolins can be confirmed’ (R. Spieler, Max Beckmann - Dream of Life (exhibition catalogue), Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, 2006, pp. 58-59).

Furthermore, with reference to Stilleben mit Grammophon und Schwertlilien, Spieler states: ‘Up until 1932, almost without exception, only two types of musical instruments appear: on the one hand, strings such as violins or cellos, and on the other, the saxophone. Stringed instruments appear to be closely connected with Quappi as a person, in two flower still-lifes [the present work & Stilleben mit violetten Dahlien of 1926] the violin practically functions as a stand-in for her […] Beckmann on the contrary associates himself with the saxophone [...] Connected with this imagery is the contemporary salon-world of stylish bars, along with all their associations with the amusement and sexual enticement omnipresent during the “Golden Twenties”’ (R. Spieler, ibid., p. 62). The rich variety of the iconographic elements which are so harmoniously composed marks Stilleben mit Grammophon und Schwertlilien as one of Beckmann’s finest allegorical still-lifes from his Frankfurt period.