Max Beckmann′s Dutch Exile Works on Show in Amsterdam | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 21.04.2007
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Max Beckmann's Dutch Exile Works on Show in Amsterdam

Works by Max Beckmann, one of Germany's most highly regarded painters -- who fled Nazi Germany and took refuge in the Netherlands -- are now being shown at Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum.

Beckmann's Acrobat on Trapeze is part of the Amsterdam show

Beckmann's "Acrobat on Trapeze" is part of the Amsterdam show

In 1937, when Max Beckmann was 53 years old and already well-known, the Nazis who banned his work removed 590 of his works from the walls of German museums.

That same year the Nazis had mounted their now-infamous Munich exhibition of "Degenerate Art," a collection of modernist artworks chaotically hung and accompanied by texts deriding the works. It had a prime spot for Beckmann, and showed 22 of his paintings.

On the eve of its opening, the painter, now widely regarded as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, fled to Amsterdam with his wife.

He hoped to travel on to France or the United States, but ended up staying in Amsterdam for 10 years that proved to be some of his most productive.

Over 100 works on show

Max Beckmann

Beckmann in his Amsterdam studio, 1938

Now, Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum is hosting the first exhibition focused on Beckmann's Amsterdam years, running from April through to Aug. 19.

Over 100 paintings and drawings show the artists' ambiguous feelings -- relief from having escaped Nazi Germany but frustration at being trapped in the Netherlands.

The works on display come from public and private collections and were brought together with the help of Munich's Pinakothek der Moderne where the show will run next from Sept. 13 through Jan. 16, 2008.

The show is unusual for the Van Gogh Museum, which usually focuses on 19th-century painters and does not have any works by Beckmann.

However, Beckmann "was considerably influenced" by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and "wanted multiplicity after the simplicity of Van Gogh or Gauguin," according to curator Beatrice von Bormann.

Not poor, but sad

Max Beckmann Gemälde Matrose

Painted just before fleeing Nazi Germany

In Amsterdam, Beckmann did not live in poverty as many of the roughly 20,000 other German refugees in the Netherlands. Thanks to his acquaintances in Germany, he continued to sell paintings, but the pain he felt as an exile shows through in his work.

"Black plays an increasingly important role, he even had two palettes: one for black and one for other colors," Von Bormann said.

Beckmann painted clichés of Dutch life, young girls with traditional hairstyles or farmers in wooden shoes and extremely serious-looking self-portraits. He also continued with his favorite scenes of night life: circuses, cabarets and bars, usually sprinkled with eloquent details: in a gypsy caravan a man climbs a ladder to escape through the roof and cages can be seen everywhere.

Pictures from memory

Niederlande Deutschland Max Beckmann Ausstellung in Amsterdam

Beckmann's "dark" period during Amsterdam exile

The painter also devoted, from memory, a series to landscapes that were then inaccessible to him -- the Italian Riviera, the French Mediterranean coast and even the beach at Ostende in Belgium.

In 1947, Beckmann finally obtained a visa for the United States, originally turned down in 1940, and once again emigrated. In 1950, he died of a heart attack on a New York sidewalk.

Parallel to the Van Gogh Museum show, the Biblical Museum in Amsterdam has an exhibit called "The Apocalypse of Max Beckmann," a series of 27 lithographs from 1942 -- published in limited edition in Nazi Germany -- based on the last book of the Bible.

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