Depicting a quiet corner of an apartment with a view through a window looking out to sea, Stilleben mit Tulpen und Ausblick aufs Meer (Still Life with Tulips and a view of the sea) is a powerful and evocative still-life painting dating from the long and lonely years of Beckmann's exile in Amsterdam.
Beckmann and his wife Quappi had wisely fled to Holland the very day after hearing Hitler's speech denouncing 'degenerate' artists in July 1937. Although Beckmann was never to think of Amsterdam as anything more than a waystation on route to a new life in either Paris or the United States, he was to remain in the Dutch city for ten years, where, under increasingly difficult conditions, he was also to paint many of his greatest and most powerful works.
Begun in 1938, and listed in the artist's handlist as completed that same year, Stilleben mit Tulpen und Ausblick aufs Meer is, however, signed and dated 'A.40', (Amsterdam, 1940), perhaps referring to the time at which it was first sold or after Beckmann had further amended it. In either case, and like so many of the works Beckmann painted during his years in exile, this powerful still-life is one that clearly evokes Beckmann's stranded situation. Focusing on a vase of tulips - the flower most associated with the country where he now found himself - precariously standing on a table and seeming mournfully to look out to sea from the cramped corner of a room, the painting, like Selbstbildnis mit Horn of the same year, for example, is a clear allegory of Beckmann's uncertain predicament. While many of the flowers in the vase have drooped and wilted, two alone remain standing tall together as a ship far away on the horizon is seen steaming off to another shore.
In December 1940, after the fall of France and the Occupation of Holland had finally ended the Beckmanns' hope of escape, Beckmann wrote as an entry to the secret diary he was beginning, and as a bolster to himself for the times ahead: 'The role you are playing at present is the most difficult but also the greatest that life could offer you - don't forget it.' A year before he had written to his friend Stephan Lackner 'when you see our mutual friends, give them all my kindest regards and tell them that we have not given up, that intellectual Germany will occupy its rightful place again among the people. We are at work.' (Max Beckmann, 'Letter to Stephan Lackner' April 26, 1939, quoted in Max Beckmann Exile in Amsterdam, exh. cat., Amsterdam, 2007, p. 45).