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Posts Tagged ‘Degenerate Art’

Max Beckmann- The Actors 1941

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What I want to show in my work is the idea which hides itself behind so-called reality. I am seeking for the bridge which leans from the visible to the invisible through reality. It may sound paradoxical, but it is in fact reality which forms the mystery of our existence.

–Max Beckmann

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For some reason, the work of Max Beckmann has never found its way to this blog. I have had an affinity with his work for many years. Part of that no doubt comes from the black linework that is present in much of his work as a result of his beginning his paintings on a black painted surface, which is something very familiar to my own process. This allowed his colors to expand off the surface, again something with which I can associate. This made his colors feel brighter and bolder, giving his work a look that separated itself from the bulk of other artists in the German Expressionist movement with which he is most often associated.

Max Beckmann- Self Portrait with Champagne Glass 1919

Beckmann was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1884 and from an early age showed a talent for painting. His first self portrait was painted at the age of 14. His self portraiture was an important aspect of his work as he painted at least 85 versions over the course of his life. Perhaps only Picasso and Rembrandt have documented themselves more.

Beckmann served as a medic during the First World War and the chaos and violence he experienced served to inspire his work for coming decade of the 1920’s. Working in Berlin in post-war Weimar Germany, Beckmann became a star, his work darkly documenting the existential doom that seems to mark Berlin of that time. But with the rise of Hitler, Beckmann’s light faded in Germany. He was a major target for Hitler’s wrath toward what he termed Degenerate Art and fled to Amsterdam in 1937. There, he desperately (and unsuccessfully) tried a number of times to get a visa to the USA.

But he survived the war and in 1948 emigrated to the USA. Over the course of the next three years, he taught painting at Washington University in St. Louis and the Brooklyn Museum. He died from a heart attack days after Christmas in 1950 on a Manhattan street corner as he was on his way to see one of his paintings at the Metropolitan Museum.

As I said, I have always felt drawn to his work. His words speak equally as powerfully to me. He often writes of his attempts to decipher the mystery of existence that is present in the mundane. I think I can understand that.

Hope you can take some time to look over his work a bit more.

Max Beckmann- Family Picture 1920

Max Beckmann- Still Life with Three Skulls 1945

Max Beckmann- Self Portrait with Trumpet 1938

Max Beckmann- The Night 1918-1919

Max Beckmann- The King 1938

Max Beckmann- Paris Society 1931

Max Beckmann- Before the Masked Ball 1922

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Lotte Laserstein- Evening Over Potsdam (Abend Uber Potsdam) 1930

Lotte Laserstein- Evening Over Potsdam (Abend Uber Potsdam) 1930

While looking up some the artwork that was branded as being entarete kunst, or degenerate art, by the Nazis in 1930’s Germany, I came across a number of  amazing works, many by well known artists  but some from artists who were unknown to me.  Many of these were Germans who were well on their way to establishing big careers as important artists before the war and its buildup  but never really regained their momentum after the war.  That is, if they even survived.

Lotte Laserstein at work on "Evening Over Potsdam"

Lotte Laserstein at work on “Evening Over Potsdam”

The painting shown above, Abend Uber Potsdam, or Evening Over Potsdam,  by  German-born artist Lotte Laserstein , stopped me in my tracks when I stumbled across it.  It speaks volumes with just a glance.  At first, all I could see was a sort of  classic Last Supper type arrangement as if painted by Norman Rockwell while he was in the deepest depths of despair.   It was big and brilliant. The facial expressions and the body language evoke a mood that is beautiful and tragic at once, perhaps filled with the foreboding of what was to come for these people and  that city and that nation.

Perhaps the dog, a sleeping German Shepherd, is symbolic of the German people being unaware of what is ahead, an omen of what is lost when a shepherd is not always vigilant.

This was painted in 1930, just as the Nazis were beginning to make their fateful  move to take over the German government.  I can only that imagine someone with keen perceptive powers could easily imagine what might be coming with those dark clouds massing over that German city.

Lotte Laserstein- In Gasthaus ( In the Restaurant)Laserstein grew up in Prussia and was trained as an artist in the creative whirlwind that was post- WW I Berlin .  Art in all forms was flourishing, fueled by the desperation and fatalism of living in a post-war world.  There was change in the air.  Women were becoming more bold and empowered and modernity was pushing away the conventions of the past.   Laserstein embraced this life, typifying the image of the single, self-sufficient New Woman.  The painting shown to the right, her Im Gasthaus (In the Restaurant), is a great example of that time, showing a single woman with bobbed hair and fashionable clothes sitting alone in a restaurant.  The hands are strong and the expression is pensive, thoughtful.  It’s a great piece and a wonderful document of the time.

Laserstein was gaining stature at this point but in 1933 was marked as being Jewish and her career began to stall in Germany.  In 1937, the same year as the famous Entarete Kunst exhibit put on by the Nazis where they displayed and mocked artwork labeled as being degenerate then destroyed much of it ( a story worthy of another post) , Laserstein was invited to have a show in Sweden.  She went there and stayed until her death in 1993.

After the war she basically fell off the radar, although she was active until the end of her life. However, her work after the beginning of World War II lacked the fire of her earlier Berlin work.  It was good work but it was less full, less expressive.  Perhaps the war had sapped away a great part of her.  Her earlier work was rediscovered in her late 80’s and had a retrospective at a London gallery and in 2003, ten years after her death, she returned to Berlin with a   large retrospective.

There were many victims of that horrible time.  Lotte Laserstein did survive and did produce work for half a century after it so perhaps one might not call her a victim.  But there was something lost i n this case and we may never know fully what might have been for her without the war.  As it is, she has left us some wonderful work.

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