Monday, 15 August 2011

Sleeping Venus: Sleeper by Max Beckmann

 Sleeper (1924)

Another sensuous sleeping figure, this time by German artist Max Beckmann who was born in Leipzig in 1884.  Beckmann showed early artistic talent and attended the Weimar acadamy from 1900-1903.  He moved to Berlin in 1904 and came under the influence of German impressionists like Lovis Corinth. A 1907 exhibition of the works of Delacroix in Berlin added another influence and he began to wok on large scale epic works; his The Sinking of the Titanic in 1912 brought him increasing fame. 

The Sinking of the Titanic (1912)

He volunteered to serve as a medic during the Great War and was sent to the Russian front but the horrors he found there caused him to have a nervous breakdown and he was discharged. His paintings became more claustraphobic, violent and brutal as a result of his experiences during the war.

Minna Tube as Venus in Wagner's Tannhauser

At the time he produced this painting his marriage to his first wife Minna Tube was coming to an end after a relationship that had lasted over twenty years (although they had lived apart since 1915). He had an affair with Dr Hildegard Melms the previous year but in 1924 fell in love with the singer Mathilde von Kaubach (1904-1986).  She was twenty years younger than Beckmann and they were married  a year later after Beckmann's divorce with Tube came through.  In this painting the sleeping figure posesses, confusingly, Minna's curvy body but Mathilde's face.  He stayed close to Minna the mother of his son, however, who went on to be a well known Wagnerian opera singer.  Beckmann had forbidden Minna from continuing her painting studies when they got married so had taken up singing instead.

Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, Max Beckmann and Mathilde "Quappi" von Kaubach in 1924

Mathilde was the daughter of the Munich artist Friederich August von Kaulbach. She was introduced to Beckmann's work and indeed, Beckman himself, by her friend Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, herself an artist, who she had met during a visit to Holland.  It was Henriette von Motesiczky, Marie-Louise's mother who gave Mathilde the nickname Quappi inspired by the closeness of the sound of Mathilde's surname of Kaubach to Kaulquappe (tadpole-maybe you have to be a German!).

Zwei damen am fenster (1928)- Portrait of Quappi with Marie-Louise von Motesiczky

Beckmann had a monograph published about him in 1924 and from then his fame increased enormously with eight of his paintings being exhibited at the Metropolitan museum in New York in 1931 and the German National Gallery in Berlin devoting a whole room to his work; a then unprecedented honour for a living artist.

Quappi in a pink jumper (1932)

The coming of the Nazis saw bad times for Beckmann; dismissed from his post at the School of the Städesches Art Institute  in 1933 and his art being declared "degenerate" in 1937.  He fled to Amsterdam only to find himself under Nazi occupation a few years later. In 1947 he received an offer from the Washington Art Schools in St Louis, moved to the US and never returned to Germany.  He died in New York in 1950

Reclining nude (1929)

This reclining nude from 1929 is obviously Quappi, then aged twenty-five,  in a sensual portrait the composition of which suggests a strong sense of intimacy.  Beckmann never liked being called an expressionist and, unlike other avant-garde painters of the time, stuck to representational works but his reputation, particularly through his influence on young American artists was considerable and in the last decade or so his work has become increasingly well known.

Quappi and Max Beckmann in Baden-Baden, 1928

Quappi helped him get over the traumas of war and was a frequent subject for Beckmann.  After his death in the US she remained in America and ran his estate before her death in Jacksonville, Florida at the age of 82.

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