MAX BECKMANN (1884-1950)
MAX BECKMANN (1884-1950)
MAX BECKMANN (1884-1950)
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MAX BECKMANN (1884-1950)
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The Collection of Jerry Moss
MAX BECKMANN (1884-1950)

Mann mit Vogel

MAX BECKMANN (1884-1950)
Mann mit Vogel
signed, dated and inscribed 'Beckmann 50 NY' (upper left)
oil on canvas
30 x 24 in. (76.3 x 61 cm.)
Painted in New York in 1950
Estate of the artist.
Mathilde Q. Beckmann, New York (wife of the artist).
Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York (by 1951).
Frank Perls Gallery, Beverly Hills (acquired from the above, 29 April 1953).
George R. Fearing, Santa Barbara (1953, until 1985).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 15 May 1985, lot 396.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
The artist's diary, 18 February 1950.
The artist's diary, 6, 15 and 21 March 1950.
The artist's diary, 28 May 1950.
The artist's handlist, 1950.
E. Göpel, Max Beckmann in seinen späten Jahren, Munich, 1955, p. 29.
Süddeutsche Zeitung, 7 February 1959 (illustrated).
E. Göpel, "Der Maler mit der Laterne des Diogenes: Die Ausstellung Max Beckmann, Das Porträt in Karlsruhe" in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 3 September 1963 (illustrated).
P. Beckmann and P. Selz, Max Beckmann: Sichtbares und Unsichtbares, Stuttgart, 1965, p. 104 (illustrated in color, p. 105; titled Vogelverkäufer).
E. and B. Göpel, Max Beckmann: Katalog der Gemälde, Bern, 1976, vol. I, p. 499, no. 820 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. 309).
T. Döring, "Hinter den Spiegeln: Zu Max Beckmanns Selbstbildnissen auf Papier, 1925 bis 1950" in Max Beckmann, Selbstbildnisse, Zeichnung und Druckgraphik, exh. cat., Neue Pinakothek, Munich, 2000.
A. Tiedemann, Max Beckmann: Catalogue Raisonné der Gemälde (, no. 820 (illustrated in color).
Beverly Hills, Frank Perls Gallery, Max Beckmann, November-December 1950.
New York, Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), Max Beckmann, April 1951, no. 8 (illustrated; titled Bird Vendor).
Karlsruhe, Badischer Kunstverein, Max Beckmann, Das Porträt: Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen, August-November 1963, no. 65 (illustrated; titled Vogelverkäufer).
Roslyn, Nassau County Museum of Art, Works by Max Beckmann, October 1984-January 1985 (illustrated).

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Painted in New York during the final year of the artist’s life, Mann mit Vogel is a testament to Max Beckmann’s extraordinary powers of observation. As Perry T. Rathbone, former director of the Saint Louis Art Museum and a close acquaintance of the artist, recalled: “Beckmann accepted a few portrait commissions” during his years in America, “but for the most part his portraits were of people [to] whom he was personally attracted” (“Max Beckmann in America: A Personal Reminiscence” in P. Selz, ed., Max Beckmann, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1964, p. 130). Mann mit Vogel is a key example of this—finding inspiration in the most humble and ordinary of figures, it is an understated, yet richly characterful portrait, illustrating Beckmann’s keen ability to imbue his compositions with a sense of life, working from memory to record the likeness of a stranger whom he had encountered on the streets of New York.
Beckmann and his wife Quappi had finally reached the United States in 1947, travelling across the Atlantic to teach at Washington University in Saint Louis, where the artist took over the advanced painting class from Philip Guston, who was in Europe on a Guggenheim Fellowship. En-route to Saint Louis, they stopped off in New York for a brief stay, where they were greeted by the artist’s dealer Curt Valentin. Writing about his arrival in the city aboard the ocean liner Westerdam the artist recalled with characteristic humor his first experiences of New York: “At dawn… veiled giants stand sleepily in the humid fog over Manhattan—and me, waiting and cursing in front of a bathroom occupied by a boorish Dutchman, while outside the Statue of Liberty glides in the fog” (quoted in S. Rewald, “Beckmann in Manhattan” in Max Beckmann in New York, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2017, p. 4). Two days later, in the midst of a whirlwind sight-seeing tour, he wrote that New York was “fantastic… utterly fantastic… Babylon is a kindergarten by comparison… My kind of thing” (quoted in ibid., p. 5).
Two years later, the Beckmanns returned to live in the city, thanks to a new teaching position at Brooklyn Museum Art School. Writing to Valentin in early May 1949, Beckmann outlined his ambitions for his relocation to New York: “[I want to live] preferably between 40th and 30th Streets, so I can take the subway to go to Brooklyn. Somewhere else would be acceptable as long as I have a good room to work in and it is not too expensive… I am rather pleased at the prospect of a new world—New York…” (quoted in ibid., p. 3). Valentin found the Beckmanns an apartment at 234 East 19th Street, between Second and Third Avenues, on the third floor of an elegant townhouse close to Gramercy Park. This was the first time the artist had spent an extended period of time in the city, and he took the opportunity to explore every aspect of Manhattan’s rich offerings. He was enamored by the hustle and bustle, the multitude of cultures and languages that jostled alongside one another, intermingling and overlapping, to create the extraordinary tapestry that was New York.
Beckmann preferred to travel through the city on foot, taking long walks through the various neighborhoods as he crisscrossed the island, immersing himself in the rich play of life on the streets. In a letter to his son Peter, Beckmann proclaimed: “New York is actually not a city but a vast jungle that to explore and get to know would actually take an entire lifetime. During the past six weeks I have barely become acquainted with its outer borders, but I keep on working to get to know this monster” (quoted in ibid., p. 9). It was on one such stroll through Manhattan that Beckmann first came across the inspiration for Mann mit Vogel. Every morning he would take a quick walk before beginning work in the studio and would often spot this man in a small fenced-in park near his home. According to Quappi, the anonymous model was blind, one of many impoverished residents who frequented the area. Though Beckmann referred to the character as “the bird seller” in his diary, the violet and scarlet plumed animal that perches on his hand was a complete invention, conjured by the artist to imbue this melancholy figure with a certain gentleness and quiet sense of calm, the presence of the small bird lending a note of brightness, color and beauty to his life.
There is a bold confidence in the artist’s handling of pigment in Mann mit Vogel, the figure rendered in quick, loose brushstrokes, with vigorous painterly dashes of unexpected color tones, including a bright violet and a luminous yellow. In New York at this time, Beckmann found himself increasingly surrounded by the widespread championing of abstract art. Nevertheless, his work remained firmly rooted in the figurative, powerfully asserting the artist’s long-standing belief in what he described as the “mystery” of objective reality. As Beckmann had stated in 1938, “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 leads from the visible to the invisible. To penetrate is to go through” (“On My Painting,” 1938, reproduced in B.C. Buenger, ed., Max Beckmann, Self Portrait in Words: Collected Writings and Statements, 1903-1950, Chicago, 1997, p. 302).

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