Kunstmuseum Den Haag acquires Dutch beach scene by Max Beckmann

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Kunstmuseum Den Haag acquires Dutch beach scene by Max Beckmann
Max Beckmann, Bathers with Green Bathing Hut and Sailors in Red Trousers, 1934. Oil on canvas, 80 x 60 cm.

THE HAGUE.- Kunstmuseum Den Haag has purchased an important work by painter Max Beckmann (1884 – 1950). The expressionist artist painted Bathers with Green Bathing Hut and Sailors in Red Trousers in 1934, after visiting the Dutch coastal resort of Zandvoort for the first time. Sea views are a recurring theme in Beckmann’s work and stylistically, too, this painting is typical of his oeuvre, featuring an alienating composition and executed in vivid colours with dark outlines. The Netherlands played an important role in Beckmann’s life. From 1937 until after the Second World War, he lived in exile in Amsterdam, in what turned out to be one of the most productive phases of his career. A major figure in 20th-century art, Beckmann not only occupies a key position in western art history, but also in Kunstmuseum Den Haag’s collection. This purchase, through Berlin auction house Grisebach, adds a second Beckmann painting to the museum’s collection of works by German expressionists. In spring 2024 Kunstmuseum Den Haag will be devoting an exhibition to the work of Beckmann. The acquisition has been possible thanks to financial support from the Rembrandt Association (courtesy of its Modern Art Fund, Op Dreef Fund and Schorer Romeijn Grothe Fund), the Mondrian Fund, VriendenLoterij lottery, Kunstmuseum Fund and the Mondrian Business Club.

Beckmann and his wife Quappi first visited the coastal resort of Zandvoort in 1934. This visit led to a number of paintings, including Bathers with Green Bathing Hut and Sailors in Red Trousers. The painting shows the beach in summer as seen from the promenade. People are seen enjoying various activities: bathers in the sea, children playing in a pool of water and sailors dressed in red and blue standing by a boat and the green bathing hut. A steam ship is visible on the horizon. The image is presented in a dramatic composition typical of Beckmann’s work. Rather than the horizontal format commonly used for landscapes, he opts here for a portrait orientation. The diagonal sections into which the image is divided suggest a tilted perspective, which has a disorienting and alienating impact on the viewer. We see the scene from above, yet the sea towers above us. These simple but highly effective manipulations of space and image enabled Beckmann to transform an otherwise traditional scene into a dynamic modern painting.

Beckmann’s sea views are regarded as reflections of his personal life, painted at a time when he had been forced to consider his role as an artist. The same is true of Bathers with Green Bathing Hut and Sailors in Red Trousers. Beckmann’s stay in Zandvoort in summer 1934 came shortly after he lost his job at the Städelschule art college in Frankfurt. It was no coincidence that this occurred just as national socialism was on the rise in Germany.

Shortly afterwards the Nazi regime deemed his art ‘degenerate’. No fewer than 600 works by Beckmann were confiscated and in 1937 the Nazis insulted him by showing his beach scene Der Strand, am Lido (1927) at the infamous entartete Kunst (‘Degenerate Art’) exhibition. Beckmann and his wife decided to flee to the Netherlands, where they would eventually spend ten years living in exile in Amsterdam. Despite the occupation, he continued to visit Zandvoort. Even when the beach became inaccessible, after the Germans had built their Atlantic Wall defences in 1942, Beckmann continued to paint Dutch sea views and beach scenes to escape the oppression he experienced in real life. Beckmann’s time in the Netherlands turned out to be one of the most productive periods of his entire career.

Enriching the collection

Beckmann’s palette, expressive style and focus on the inner being link him to German expressionism. His work also relates to the new realist tendencies of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity. These two movements have long constituted core elements of Kunstmuseum Den Haag’s collection. The museum now has a leading collection of work by artists like Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriël Münter, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paula Modersohn-Becker, August Macke and Käthe Kollwitz. In 1956 Kunstmuseum Den Haag hosted Max Beckmann’s first solo exhibition in the Netherlands.

Benno Tempel says that Bathers with Green Bathing Hut and Sailors in Red Trousers is a very welcome addition to its collection, alongside another painting and five lithographs by Beckmann. ‘Sea views were an extremely important subject for Beckmann, and he often sought inspiration on the Dutch coast. Until now, there has been no sea view by him in our collection, or that of any other Dutch museum. Thanks to the generous support of the Rembrandt Association and the Mondrian Fund, we are now able to present a more complete impression of the work of an artist who produced at least a third of his oeuvre during his time in the Netherlands. I am extremely grateful and proud to have received support from these major funds, and to have been able to enrich the national collection.’ The museum was also recently able to add Boys on Shrove Tuesday (1911) by Gabriele Münter to its collection. ‘Another fabulous addition to our German expressionists collection, donated by THE EKARD COLLECTION in memory of Henry and Erica Drake. For this, too, we are immensely grateful’, says Tempel.

Max Beckmann

After initially working in a muted palette, with impressionist brushwork, Beckmann’s art underwent a radical metamorphosis during the First World War. The horrors he saw at the front as an army medical volunteer caused him ‘severe injuries of the soul’, as he put it, and eventually led to a nervous breakdown. From that point on, his work became expressionist. The symbolic or allegorical undertone of much of his work means that Beckmann’s haunting images are often read as comments on the tragic political and social events in Europe. His work commented on the shifting spirit of the times from an alienating perspective. The haunting images are both deeply personal and a reflection of the mood of society in general. In 1924 Beckmann started teaching at the Städelschule art college in Frankfurt, and his art won the admiration of both critics and collectors. He exhibited regularly in Europe and the United States, and leading museums bought his work. But his life and career changed dramatically when the national socialists seized power and his work was labelled degenerate. In 1937 he and his wife fled to Amsterdam, where he spent ten years in exile. After the war he moved to the United States, where he taught at a number of universities, and continued making art until his death in 1950. His work features in leading collections, including those of Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Städel Museum in Frankfurt and the Museum of Modern Art New York.

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