Max Beckmann, the German expressionist painter who lived all throughout Europe and died on a street corner in New York City, has returned to NYC more than 60 years after his death.
In spirit, at any rate. Under the hand of curator Sabine Rewald, 39 of Beckmann’s paintings are to be displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a very poignant collection—among the works on display is Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket, one of Beckmann’s last paintings. It has been in the Met before, but Beckmann never saw it there. He was on his way to do just that, one cold day near Christmas in 1950, when he collapsed in front of one of the entrances to Central Park.
Volumes could be written on the allure of a painting with a history like that. Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket is a serious image, a painting of the artist smoking. Its bright colors reflect the vibrancy he often used when painting in NYC.
Also in the exhibit are a number of his earlier works. Family Picture (1920) was painted in Frankfurt and condemned by the National Socialists as “degenerate.” Paris Society (1925/31/47) is filled with disapproval, and evokes Pablo Picasso. A 1938 selfie, Self-Portrait with Horn, reinforces the way Beckmann seems to have seen himself—wary, but somehow not serious.
He loved New York, according to those who knew him. It was the first place he lived after Germany where he did feel like he was in exile. He would be glad to see his art back there, to be enjoyed in the environment that brought him back to life.
“Max Beckmann in New York” will be on display in the Met Fifth Avenue, Gallery 199 from October 19th 2016 through February 20th 2017. The exhibition is backed by the Isaacson-Draper Foundation and supported by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.