Monday, August 9, 2010

Max Monday

Double-Portrait Carnival, By Max Beckmann

"In 1925, the year he married Quappi, Beckmann painted a double portrait that expresses his alienation and his courage. Double-Portrait Carnival, 1925, ostensibly shows the pair entering a ballroom or coming onto a stage. The golden curtains have dropped shut; the figures stand exposed. The actual costumes are light-hearted: Quappi expensively disguised as a rider with a horse, Beckmann more modestly bedecked as a clown or acrobat. He holds his quasi-trademark cigarette, his stand-in miniature for the magician's wand. But the lovers do not communicate. Quappi looks earnestly to the right, as if awaiting, with anxiety, a signal, while her husband presents himself to us with the sad defencelessness of an actor without words to say. His pose has often been compared to that of Watteau's Gilles, and the resemblance is very striking. Like Gilles, Beckmann accepts stoically the strain of being looked at, of letting others see him, without the protection of either a theatrical robe or the garments of everyday. The crucial difference, of course, is that Watteau is not Gilles; he is a painter standing outside and seeing Gilles. Beckmann chose to paint his own exposure and his ludicrous attire, to put himself on display as well as his beloved. We can only feel that he was convinced of the truthfulness of this approach. Everyday clothing was, to Beckmann, more of a genuine mask than masquerade clothing. Life was a comedy. To acknowledge this and play one's part with dignity was to know one's self with greater certainty.

Beckmann's greatest self-portrait takes this discovery and inverts it. Self-Portrait in Tuxedo, 1927, works on the premise that the tuxedo, the aristocratic dress suit in which Beckmann always felt completely at home, was in itself a masquerade, a pretence of dignity and decorum to which no man was truly entitled. If the gods laugh at the clown, they explode with mirth over a man in his stately black-and-white."

Double-Portrait, Max Beckmann and Quappi, By Max Beckmann

"The 1941 Double-Portrait, Max Beckmann and Quappi spells out the terms of his second marriage with a frankness found nowhere else. (Despite his reiterated self-portraits, Beckmann was a deeply private man.) This is a self-portrait with his wife; she tucks herself neatly into his side. It is he who addresses us, she who looks modestly away. Yet, in this mundane world, where we might not fit in if we do not know and keep the rules, it is Quappi who seems more at ease. Beckmann looks choked by his muffler, encumbered with his walking stick, ill at ease with his elegant hat. There is something of a stranded whale about him, an exile in Holland and for once without much money. His wife's hand rests lightly on his shoulder as if to steer him, her fashionable little shoes trip forward with some certainty, while her husband hesitates, seems to feel for a footing on this alien carpet. None of this is admitted; naturally he glooms out at us, disgruntled but in command. We feel, all the same, that the worldly motor power in this partnership is the woman's. The great advance on the 1925 double-portrait is that there is no longer any need for carnival disguise. The figures are still just as seperate, as distant from each other as they were then, but an acknowledgement of their mutual dependence has grown and helped them. If Beckmann affronts the fates and dares them to do their worst, Quappi is at his side to share his future, united if apart." --Sr. Wendy Beckett, Max Beckmann and The Self


Arttube said...

On Arttube you can find an interesting video about a work of Max Beckmann made in 1944: ‘Portrait of the family Lütjens’. In the video Annemarie Lütjens tells the story of the painting and Max Beckmann, who was a good friend of her father.

You can find the video here:

Paul Stilwell said...

Many thanks!