About This Artwork

Max Beckmann
German, 1884–1950

Self-Portrait, 1937

Oil on canvas
75 3/4 x 35 in. (192.5 x 89 cm)
Signed and dated, l.r.: "Beckmann/3.37"

Gift of Lotta Hess Ackerman and Philip E. Ringer, 1955.822

© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Max Beckmann was one of the Weimar Republic’s most honored artists, and he was one of those most vilified by the Nazis. This was perhaps the last painting the artist completed in Berlin before he and his wife fled to the Netherlands on July 20, 1937. Their flight occurred just two days after Adolf Hitler delivered a speech condemning modern art and one day after the opening of the "Degenerate Art" exhibition, the Nazis’ official denigration of the avantgarde, which included twenty-two of Beckmann’s works. The artist departed Germany just in time: in 1937 more than five hundred of his works were confiscated from public collections.

The most brilliantly colored and aggressive of all of Beckmann’s selfportrait (he painted over eighty), this powerful work depicts the artist, near life-size, on the staircase of a hotel lobby, separated from two figures in the background on the right. Beckmann steps to the left, while his dark-rimmed gaze and the entire picture plane— curtains, flowers, staircase, and banisters— seem to slide off to the right. His large hands hang down, limp, against his black tuxedo.

— Entry, The Essential Guide, 2013, p. 275.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

New York, Columbia University (organizer), Modern Portraits: The Self and Others, no. 6, pp. 10-11, ill. p. 11 and cover; traveled to Wildenstein & Co., October 20–November 27, 1976.

St. Louis Art Museum, Max Beckmann, September 7–November 4, 1984, no. 75, pp. 64–65, 238–39, ill. p. 261.

Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste, Max Beckmann: Gemälde 1905–1950, July 21–September 23, 1990, no. 56, p. 158–159 (ill.).

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

Zurich, Kunsthaus, Max Beckmann in Paris, September 25, 1998–January 6, 1999; traveled tp St. Louis Art Musuem, February 5–May 9, 1999.

Paris, Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Max Beckmann, September 10, 2002–January 7, 2003; traveled to London, Tate Modern, February 15 –May 5, 2003 and New York, Museum of Modern Art, June 25–September 30, 2003.

Publication History

Max Beckmann, On My Painting (New York, 1941).

Benno Reifenberg and Wilhelm Hausenstein, Max Beckmann (Munich, 1949), p. 75, no. 368.

Max Beckmann, Diaries 1940–1950 (Germany, 1955).

James A. Speyer, "Art News from Chicago," Art News 54, 9 (January 1956): p. 19 (ill.)

Art Institute of Chicago, Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago : A Catalogue of the Picture Collection (Chicago, 1961), p. 20, ill. p. 473.

Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly, 55, 2 (1961), p. 37.

Art Institute of Chicago Calendar, 59, 2 (March 1965), p. 5 (ill.)

El Mundo de los Museos: The Art Institute of Chicago (Madrid, 1967), p. 70 (ill.).

Erhard Göpel and Barbara Göpel, Max Beckmann: Katalog der Gemälde, vols. 1 and 2 (Bern, 1976), pp. 298–99, no. 459, pl. 159.

Hildegard Zenser, Max Beckmann: Selbstbildnisse (Munich, 1984), no. 35 (ill.).

A. James Speyer and Courtney Graham Donnell, Twentieth Century European Paintings (University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 32, cat. 1B2.

Wood, James N. and Teri J. Edelstein, The Art Institute of Chicago: Twentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture (Art Institute of Chicago, 1996), p. 79 (ill.).

Ownership History

Curt Valentin, New York, 1947 /49–1955, acquired directly from the artist (letter from Mathilde Beckmann, dated September 14, 1956, in curatorial file); purchased by the Art Institute with funds from Lotta Hess Ackerman and Phillip E. Ringer, 1955.

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