Max Beckmann

Max Beckmann’s “Blühender Garten”, 1933, shows a garden alive with energy, as if painted in a moment of calm before a summer storm. His brushstrokes bristle to attention, with black outlines, quivering flowers, and a still swimming pool.
Beckmann rose to prominence as a painter associated with Neue Sachlichkeit – a post-World War I German avant-garde movement – that reacted against the bright and emotional pre-War German Expressionism. With works such as Die Nacht, 1918-1919, Beckmann depicted the horrors of World War I from a distorted and disillusioned point of view. The placid, yet ominous Blühender Garten picks up on the social urgency of Neue Sachlichkeit, as a rejection of passive acceptance of the rise of Nazism in Germany; in Beckmann’s view, even the daffodils and foxgloves are affected.
In 1933, the year he painted Blühender Garten, Beckmann was dismissed by the Art School in Frankfurt after Hitler was named Chancellor of the Reich. Beckmann would be ostracized as a ‘degenerate artist’ in the coming years, and eventually flee to Amsterdam at the outbreak of World War II. This political tension simmers beneath the surface of Beckmann’s serene Blühender Garten, rendered in moody shades of blue and green.
The flowering garden of this work is likely that of the Villa Kaulbach – the Bavarian estate of Beckmann’s in-laws. Between 1930 and 1935, Beckmann and his wife, Mathilde “Quappi” von Kaulbach, often traveled to the Kaulbach home in Ohlstadt, Upper Bavaria, on holiday. Built by Quappi’s father, the noted German painter Friedrich August von Kaulbach, the home had a large painting studio on the premises which Beckmann used frequently. The Villa Kaulbach became a welcome retreat for the artist, who, discouraged by fascist censorship of the German avant-garde, took the opportunity to devote time to his paintings of nature.
Beckmann began his career as a landscape painter, and always held a propensity for the genre. While Beckmann’s atmospheric renderings of the natural world may suggest an Impressionist influence, the artist, in fact, allied himself more closely within the legacy of the Post- Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne. Beginning with Cézanne’s strong sense of pictorial order, Beckmann took a more patchwork approach to his landscapes, evident in the jagged brushstrokes and bold black lines of Blühender Garten, which stand in stark contrast to Cézanne’s layered, constructive application of paint.
Carla Schulz-Hoffmann remarked that “Beckmann’s work always exists on two levels… even when a work appears as a breathtaking peinture, it lures the viewer into a deceptive security which is merely a façade for the abyss looming behind.” In the present work, this technique is ostensibly, apparent. While appearing as a simple garden scene, one cannot disentangle this striking work from the context in which it was painted – namely, the rising tensions in the artist’s hometown of Frankfurt, and his impending exile from Germany. Painted at a pivotal moment in the artist’s career, Blühender Garten is simultaneously a testament to the artist’s knowledge of the darkness of the world he was commemorating, and celebration of the beauty of nature that continues to bloom, despite it all.

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