About This Artwork

Max Beckmann
German, 1884–1950

Reclining Nude, 1929

Oil on canvas
32 7/8 x 46 13/16 in. (83.4 x 119 cm)
no inscription

Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1988.220

© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Though often associated with the German Expressionist movement, Max Beckmann’s artistic production was highly individualistic and eludes strict categorization. While Beckmann had earlier criticized the French avant-garde, by the mid-1920s, he began to identify with artists working in the Parisian art world. He made frequent visits to the city, and his work began to show stylistic affinities with that by artists like Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Rouault. Reclining Nude recalls the long-standing tradition of associating the female body with the timeless ideals of beauty. The stark nature of the model’s pose and distorted form, however, are more modern updates on this classical idea.

— Permanent collection label


World War I was the decisive event in Max Beckmann's career. The slaughter and suffering that he witnessed at the front, where he served as a medical orderly, and his subsequent nervous breakdown drastically changed his outlook and, by extension, his work. Discharged from the army, Beckmann soon started to produce a series of shockingly new paintings reflecting what he described in a letter from the front as "life's unspeakable contradictions." Unflinching and brutally direct, works such as the barbaric Night of 1918-I9 (Diisseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen), which depicts a band of thugs torturing a man and woman, set the tone for the rest of Beckmann's career. As shown by the sinister Self-Portrait with Red Scarf of 1917 (Staatsgalerie Stuttgart), and the many other self-portraits that were to follow (such as his Self-Portrait of 1937 in the collection of the Art Institute), Beckmann spared no one, not even himself, from his merciless scrutiny.

Within this context, it comes as no surprise that the theme of the nude is fairly rare in Beckmann's work, harking back as it does to a tradition that often treated the female body as an exercise in the representation of ideal beauty. Masterfully painted, this work shows Beckmann's vehement handling of pigment laid down in broad slabs of color and in dark, chiseling contours. Although the picture's theme is related to the countless reclining female nudes of art history, from Titian's Venus of Urbino (I538; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) to Francisco Goya's Naked Maja (c. 1798-I805; Museo del Prado, Madrid) to Edourad Manet's Olympia (1863; Musée du Louvre, Paris), Beckmann has injected it with something of the unsettling quality so pronounced in his more well-known works. This is the nude stripped of its idealizing veneer and depicted as the object of blatant and disquieting erotic impulses. The woman's body is shown through the distorting lens of the viewer's intense desire. The torso is unnaturally compressed and reduced to a pair of huge, bulging breasts. So dominant is this feature, in fact, that the woman's head seems over-shadowed, no more than a perfunctory afterthought, and oddly discontinuous with the rest of the figure. From the abbreviated torso, the figure's limbs-the thighs and arms inordinately long-sprawl in different directions. Despite the lush handling of paint and the beautifully sketched still life on the lower right, there seems to be more than a hint of aggression in the unabashed emphasis on the woman's breasts and in the ostentatious splaying of the figure.

—Entry, Margherita Andreotti, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, The Joseph Winterbotham Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago (1994), p. 162-163.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Munich, Galerie Günther Franke, Max Beckman–Ausstellung, July 3 –27 1930, no. 14, as Liegende Frau.
Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Max Beckmann: Das Gesamte Werk, August 3 –31,1930, no. 85, as Liegende Frau.
Paris, Galerie de la Renaissance, Max Beckmann, March 16–April 15, 1931, no. 27, as Nu couché.
Brussels, Galerie “Le Centaure,” Exposition Max Beckmann, May 16–28, 1931, no. 13, as Nu couché.
Munich, Galerie Günther Franke, Max Beckmann: 75 Gemälde einschliesslich der Amsterdamer Zeit, 21 June–20 August 1946, no. 59
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Max Beckmann zum Gedächtnis. 1884–1950, 1951, no. 73, as Liegender Akt.
Braunschweig, Germany, Kunstverein Stadtisches Museum und Haus Salve Hospes, Max Beckmann, 1884–1950, 25 October–22 November 1953, no. 41 as Liegender Akt; traveled to Bremen, Germany, Kunsthalle, November 29, 1953–January 3, 1954.
Kunsthaus Zürich, Max Beckmann, November 22, 1955–January 8, 1956, no. 46, as Liegender Akt.
Kunsthalle Basel, Ausstellung Max Beckmann, January 14–February 12, 1956, no. 39, as Liegender Akt.
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Max Beckmann, March 14–May 7, 1956, no. 33, as Liggend naakt.
St. Louis, Pius XII Memorial Library, St. Louis University, Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Morton D. May, February 14–July 4, 1960, no. 49 (ill.) as Lying Nude.
Denver, The Denver Art Museum, German Expressionist Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Morton D. May, 1960, no. 57 as Lying Nude; traveled to Los Angeles, University of California, January 8–February 19, 1961; San Francisco, M.H. De Young Memorial Museum, 1961; Chicago, The Art Institute, August 11–September 24, 1961; Youngstown, Penn., Butler Institute of American Art, 1962; Akron, Ohio, Akron Art Institute, 1962; Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, 1962; Washington D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, June 1962; Baltimore Museum of Art, 1962.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Max Beckmann, October 1–November 15, 1964, no. 31; traveled to New York, Museum of Modern Art, December 14, 1964–January 31, 1965; Chicago, The Art Institute, March 12–April 11, 1965.
Hamburg, Kunstverein, Max Beckmann, May 15–July 11, 1965, no. 29 as Liegender Akt; traveled to Frankfurt, Frankfurter Kunstverein, July 17–September 5, 1965 1929.
Tate Gallery, London, Max Beckmann, 1884–1950, October 1–November 7, 1965, no. 29, as Reclining Nude.
Museé National d’Art Moderne, Paris, Max Beckmann, September 25–October 28, 1968, no. 43; traveled to Haus der Kunst, Munich, November 9, 1968–January 6, 1969, no. 40; and the Palais des Beaux–Arts, Brussels, January 16–March 2, 1969.
New York, Marlborough–Gerson Gallery Inc., The Morton D. May Collection of 20th Century German Masters, January–February 1970, p. 51 (ill.), no. 15, as Liegender Akt 1929 Lying Nude; traveled to City Art Museum of St. Louis, July–August 1970.
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Max Beckmann: A Small Loan Retrospective of Paintings, Centered Around his Visit to London in 1938, November 1974, no. 13 (ill. cover), as Liegender Akt 1929 Reclining Nude; traveled to New York, Marlborough Gallery Inc., March 1975.
New York, Wildenstein & Co., The Artist and His World: Portraits and Self-Portraits, October 20–November 27, 1976.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Max Beckmann–Retrospective, February 25–April 23, 1984, no. 59, p. 245 (ill.), cat. by Carla Schulz, Judith C. Weiss et. al.; traveled to Berlin, Nationalgalerie, May 18–July 29, 1984; St. Louis, St. Louis Art Museum, Sept. 7–Nov. 4, 1984; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 9, 1984–February 3, 1985.

Leipzig, Germany, Museum der Bildenden Kunst, July 20–September 23, 1990.

Tokyo, ASAHI Shimbun, Masterworks of Modern Art from The Art Institute of Chicago, no. 39, pp. 126–7 (ill.); traveled to Nagaoka, Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, April 20, 1994–May 29, 1995; Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, June 10–July 24, 1994: Yokohama Museum of Art, August 6 1994–September 25, 1994. no. 39, pp. 126–7 (ill.).

New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Max Beckmann in Exile, October 9, 1996–January 5, 1997.

Zurich, Kunsthaus, Max Beckmann and Paris, September 25, 1998–January 3, 1999, no. 15, p. 20 (ill.), cat. ed. by Tobia Bezzola, Cornelia Homburg; traveled to St. Louis Art Museum, February 6–May 9, 1999.

Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Max Beckmann, September 10, 2002–January 7, 2003; traveled to London, Tate Modern, February 15–May 5, 2003; New York, Museum of Modern Art, June 25–September 20, 2003.

Publication History

J. B. Neumann and G. Franke, eds., Max Beckmann, The Artlover Library (New York and Munich, 1931), vol. 1, p. 30.

Herbert Read, Art Now: An Introduction to the Theory of Modern Painting and Sculpture, London, 1936, pl. 14, as Nude.

Franz Roh, Max Beckmann, Munich, Verlag Kurt Desch München, 1946, p. 3, as Liegende.

Benno Reifenberg and Wilhelm Hausenstein, Max Beckmann, Munich, 1949, p. 72, no. 280, as Liegender Akt.

Curt Seckel, Maßstäbe der Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, Düsseldorf: Econ–Verlag, 1967, as Liegender Akt.

Erhard Göpel and Barbara Göpel, Max Beckmann: Katalog der Gemälde, vols. 1 and 2 (Bern, 1976), pp. 222–23, no. 308, fig. 108.

Ownership History

Rudolf Freiherr von Simolin, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Seeseiten, July 15, 1929–45 [letter Dec. 17, 2002 from Christiane Zeiller, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen]; by descent to his daughter Baroness Rudi de Saint-Paul, 1945–56 [letter Dec. 21, 2002 from Eberhard Kornfeld, Galerie Kornfeld]; sold through Gutekunst und Klipstein to Morton D. May (died 1983), St. Louis, Missouri, Nov. 12, 1956–70 [letter Nov. 6, 1956 from Morton D. May and receipt Nov. 12, 1956 in curatorial file and New York 1970]. Regis Collection, by 1984 [Munich 1984]. Richard Feigen and Co., New York, by 1988 [receipt June 8, 1988 in curatorial file]; sold to the Art Institute, 8 June 1988 [above mentioned receipt].




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