Max Beckmann

Comment on Max Beckmann’s Falling Man by Steve:

An exciting painting by Max Beckmann, an artist that I’ve been meaning to look more deeply into for years, but can’t seem to find a good book about him and his painting.   It is so good to see how he solved the vertical format with the falling ( diving? ) figure .  I have found extreme verticals and elongated horizontal pictures very difficult and try to stay away from them.  Some day I may see a  landscape that would make a good excuse subject for a panorama painting, but I won’t be searching for it.   There are a lot of vertical paintings around my neck of the woods because it’s redwoods  country and many artists just can’t resist painting tall pictures of these trees,   (Maybe the same can be said about  skyscraper paintings by artists living in New York city ).   But I’m not going to do it, mainly because it’s impossible to do the trees convincingly like that.  They always look like fantastic lost- in-the-clouds  illustrations  straight out of a Hobbit land book.   But to get back to the Beckmann, I love the powerful design and the thick black outlines which magnifies and freezes the incident, catching the figure in mid-fall and making the horror permanent, as if the tragic figure will always be falling and never hit the pavement.  It’s also one of those paintings that make me want to paint in a stark expressionistic way.  One of my earliest enchantments when I first began studying art history was German expressionism which followed fast on the heels of the Blau Reiter movement which had the painter Jawlensky,…I loved his portraits and landscapes.  But I didn’t care for how the Expressionist movement became increasingly poster oriented with primarily political messages.  I like prints, but not posters or marquee type illustrations.  Lautrec did some great Moulin Rouge advertisements, but they are not my favorite of his works by a long shot.   I sense that our new dark age is bringing that kind of bold painting into my mind’s eye , and that I might be seeing ordinary situations in that stark unforgiving way.   I shall be on  the alert for that, to see if it’s true.

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22 Responses to Max Beckmann

  1. trueoutsider says:

    Steve, Beckmann is one of my favorite painters. And interestingly, I posted the image and you chose to comment on it on the Guston thread. Beckmann’s work was a powerful influence on Guston’s early on. Beckmann fled the Nazis, first to Amsterdam, and then on to the US. He taught at Washington University in St. Louis, where the still own a great number of his works. I have a number of Beckmann books, my favorite being the one published along with his Retrospective at the St. Louis Museum of Art. Guston taught at the same university as well. They were both there around the same time. I’m not sure if they overlapped. I’ll need to check into this.

    The falling man image is also associated in my mind with Icarus, who flew to close to the sun and it melted his wings, plunging him to his death. Bruegel’s marvelous painting indicates this as an event of very little consequence to the laborer going about his business. The artist ascends toward the sun (think of Turner here as well) in an attempt to reach divine status and suffers the fate of all mortals. Can everybody see Icarus?

  2. trueoutsider says:

    I like Lautrec’s posters and Expressionists woodblocks, but I can’t think of any case that I prefer prints to original drawings. Goya, maybe? I have a two volume set of the original drawings for some of Goya’s prints. They’re pretty fascinating. But I sat around looking at the original prints at the Chicago Art Institute for so long, I think I fell in love with the particular images in that form.

    Max Beckmann is one of many of my favorite 20th Century artists. Another really fine book on him is the Hatje Cantz publication Max Beckmann: A Dream of Life. I don’t think I’ve ever found a Hatje Cantz book that isn’t top quality. They’re my favorite art book publisher.

    It’s quite interesting to me what you say about long verticals. I’ve been working on two of them for a couple years. And just last night I thought one of them is really working. Probably when I go out there this morning it will be a disaster. But last night it was powerfully alive. It’s an incredibly challenging format. I just picked up a couple pieces of luan at the lumber store, precut to that size, thinking I’d give them a try. I think they’re well worth doing. De Kooning painted some of his later women on door panels from a lumber yard. He didn’t have trouble with the format I ended up doing roughly the same thing to begin. Not thinking of De Kooning, but it’s perfect for a standing figure. But, typically, I wanted it more complicated spatially than just a standing figure. I love how Beckmann compresses the figure into that wheel structure and the two ascending vertical buildings. Beckmann’s compositions are always so taut. The structure is impeccable in terms of design. Plus the color is so rich playing of the dynamic black paint. Similar to Roualt’s use of it in many ways.

    • Steve says:

      Bart
      I think of Roualt too when I see Beckmann’s paintings, not only the bold black outlines but the gravity of the images feel like the powerfully serious pictures of Roualt . It will be interesting to learn how Beckmann worked, how long he worked on paintings. We know that Roualt’s paintings were never finished, years, a life time, went into some of his works. But the Roualt comparison aside, Beckmann’s painting have always struck me as tough-stuff, jagged unforgiving compositions, which I like, but without the shards-look of some German Expressionism. I don’t care much for the shard way of describing life, sharp triangles that pierce the sky or shrapnel pieces that stab the soul. Beckmann feels a little softer than that, more sensuous , at least to my eyes, but still uncompromising. Those artists who lived through the holocaust speak very deeply to the world I think. They don’t fool around. In some ways they remained humorless all their lives, but who wouldn’t? I think of Nolde , also hiding from the Nazis, painting in his hideaway shack ( forget where, maybe Holland? ), doing watercolors or oils on any scrap of cardboard or paper he could get, and who knows where he got his paints. If one thinks that any day they will be rounded-up and shot or sent to extermination camps, it “…concentrates a man’s mind wonderfully…” in the words of Samuel Johnson. I’m guessing that Beckmann never forgot his fear and hate, but also didn’t lose his love. I feel love from his paintings, as improbable as that may seem. As much love as I feel from Roualt or that great lover Rembrandt (who also was no peach to be around ).
      The vertical format does call me, I know it, much more than the panorama, which is kind of blah to me. I will have to face it one of these days.

      • trueoutsider says:

        Steve, I do see Roualt and Beckmann connected in their use of color against the black paint. Beckmann differs from Roualt to me in that he has such a powerful sense of strong form. With strong light and shadow effects generally. But he also paints without the black as well. Here’s a painting of himself and his wife as performers. All his stuff is just so well designed and composed.

        And I love his color sense. Purple and Orange/Rust. Really simple play of that color scheme. He’s not a wishy washy painter at all! The thing just hits you right between the eyes.

        As to his technique, I’m really bummed out. There’s a wonderful reproduction of his last painting in my Beckmann retrospective book, unfinished at his death. It’s called the Ballet Rehearsal. You can see how he just starts with three big canvases. The triptych was a format that he worked in often. He’s a highly original painter. How many painters in the 20th Century worked in this format?

        The painting is being laid in really loosely so he can make any corrections he wants before he begins laying on the impastoed areas. Beckmann wasn’t afraid to use paint? He puts that paint on thickly and with assurance. I think there’s a lot of palette knife work in most of his work.

        Here’s a description of the Ballet Rehearsal at its initial stages from the catalog:

        In this unfinished state this painting enables us to observe the manner in which Beckmann worked: from the priming state to the preliminary sketch in charcoal, the retracing and correcting in thinned black paint, and then the experimental application of color with crayon and thin oil paint (the greenish-yellow background segments in the middle picture). The triptych, therefore, has a light, transparent character and its drawing a sketchy effect, even though the figures and objects appear with relative distinctness.

        The materials listed in the painting are: oil colors, charcoal, tusche and colored chalk on canvas.

        Beckmann is a German, after all, and he had a traumatic experience in WWI at the front. That’s what changed him. He began as a standard academic painter. But after the war he moved to his Modern style. He was highly successful during the Weimar years. But as Hitler moved into power all of the Modernists, even going back to Cezanne and van Gogh were targeted. Their works being displayed as Degenerate Art and much of it destroyed. Artists like Beckmann and Grosz were lucky to escape with their lives. Grosz had made prints ridiculing Hitler and the brown shirts. One story I read had him escaping out the back door as the Gestapo arrived to smash the printing presses.

  3. trueoutsider says:

    Here’s one of those de Kooning women. Woman, Sag Harbor, 1967, 80″ x 36″, oil on wooden door. I”m not sure how many of these he did. I don’t think it was but a few. The one below I know quite well because it was owned by the Hirschorn in Washington, DC. I grew up in this mecca of paintings. No wonder I got hooked so young.

    • Steve says:

      If we added some creamy reds and yellows to a Beckmann painting and held it up in front of one of those wavy carnival mirrors, it might look like a DeKooning picture. I have always like DeKooning’s work ( as well as his name) because of the humor involved. Humor meaning a penchant for the absurdities of life, not jokes or parody,…it’s like unfunny humor. I recall that in college when an instructor showed a slide of a DeKooning woman, most students went: ” Eeeewww!” But I went: ” Ooooohhh!” There’s a difference. Fortuantely, in my senior year, a new part-time teacher came to our college art department, a Spanish guy name Salvatore Casa. He only taught one life drawing class that year. DeKooning was his hero. Mr. Casa didn’t believe in shadows! Whenever I’d make a watercolor drawing of the model, I’d put in some shadows ( I love shadows ), and he’d come around the room looking at the student drawings and when he got to mine he’d say: ” What’s with the shadows? Forget the shadows!” He really made me laugh. But he also opened my eyes to a different way of painting, not a Rembrandt way, but a DeKooning way, a Pollock way , even a Picasso way. I owe him, even if I don’t inherently feel the way he did. Was it Tiepolo who painted that great painting where the shadows were basically just more bright colors? But DeKooning paints more childlike. Why spend all one’s time trying to sight-size some woman’s body? It’s crazy. And why not use her body as a diving board into a lush and wild realm? ( here I must interpose a Bob Dylan lyric from his song ISIS: ( “…and I rode straight away…to that wild unknown country where I could not go wrong.” ) A leap into the dark, where rules no longer apply. Shadows? To hell with shadows. I still love shadows, but in a different way because of DeKooning and Mr. Casa.

  4. trueoutsider says:

    I’ll also add that the de Kooning looks absolutely terrible in reproduction. If this was the only way I had to view it, I’d think De Kooning was one of the worst painters I’d ever seen. That’s the problem with digital reproductions in general. I think it’s also why so many painters without any access to seeing the original work of the New York School, and I mean in quantity, have no idea at all of the quality of their work. De Kooning is an uncannily great painter. But one has to see the original paintings.

    That’s long been my frustration talking with other painters about this work. I live in the Southwest where the knowledge of painting is limited. In my view, it’s largely because most painters here have limited contact at best with Old Master or 20th Century master paintings. New Mexico is a poor state with a backward policy about allowing wealthy collectors to donate work through tax breaks. There are no Old Master paintings here in museum collections that I can think of. One has to drive to Phoenix, Denver, or deep into Texas to see Old and Modern European masters. New Mexico is a treasure trove of Southwestern painting, but without wider influences outside of a narrow provincialism, most of the painters get stuck in the rut of “tourist” painting.

    One can learn a lot from looking at art books, however. I don’t disdain the art books, believe me. That’s my life line since I can’t see Old Master or advanced painting any other way and why I’ve become so obsessed about looking at art books. I’m never without a pile from the local libraries. It’s my only way of seeing great paintings directly.

    I love living out here with the fantastic natural environment. It’s a tradeoff and I’ve traded off for access to nature. But sometimes I wish we were in a natural environment where Old Master work wasn’t so completely inaccessible without a 6 or more hour drive.

    It probably has everything to do with why I’ve started this blog. There are no painters out here I have contact with who want to look at Old Master work seriously or it’s evolution into the work of the 20th century masters. Most painters are either trying to be super hip post modernists or follow rigid academic and tourist formulas. I’m in a no-man’s zone that has almost next to no occupants.

  5. johnk823 says:

    Of the Beckman
    Well, based on the guy in the middle of the picture looking up, I would guess Icarus is in the topleft area of the painting. He is hard to make out on the computer, but is faintly there, if I’m seeing right. I would not asume he was the legs coming up out of the water because he would be to far away from the sun. If I am wrong then you may have to enlighten me, as I do not know this painter or his work.

    The painting does have a somewhat Turner effect going on to it, at least in the background areas. Wish I had a larger picture to look at, but ohwell! Lots of good detail and depth to this though and the colors are well used. It is a very busy painting for me to look at with a lot going on. In your opinion, what would you consider the main focal point of the piece?

    Of the De Kooing
    Lots of faces going on in this piece. At my first glance it looked like young children climbing up the side of a cliff (at bottom right), to some big fat narly woman with the head of a beast. I really don’t know how to decifer this kind of art, because I have never been involve in it my entire life. I do see many things going on with the play of color and each area of the painting has a different message, but I find it very confusing for myself. I’m sure if the original work was in front of me I would get much more out of it. I do find it, in one sense, rather an interesting piece with lots of color bursting out of it.

    • Steve says:

      John
      That’s a great image: ” …young children climbing up the side of a cliff (at bottom right), to some big fat narly woman with the head of a beast. ” I’ll bet DeKooning would love it. I love it. I don’t know if I can decipher it either, and don’t really try. Paint is a magical thing. Today, as I was mixing several yogurt cups of acrylic paint for a frame I’m making, and trying to find the appropriate value and color for the painting it was destined to ‘house,’ I got transported into the wonderful realm of pure paint. Forget the frame, I was stoned on swirling the brush around in those cups of colored cream, and I just wanted to throw it on a canvas or draw totally free with it. Add some more wild pigments and draw with them too. Was it art I was thinking of? Well, yeah, it was. I’m not a spatter-painter or a slop & glop guy, but I did feel the urge to paint some object or portrait or landscape with those cups of paint, in a spontaneous act of being & doing. I think ( though I could be way wrong ) that DeKooning was working in this manner. What’s your take on it Bart? As I’ve mentioned, the New York School is one of the least known periods for me.

    • trueoutsider says:

      John, that’s Icarus hitting the water. I see it as comical in that Bruegel gives him a kind of soft landing. The guy looking off is to lead you off presumably and have one traveling around the painting as well as illustrating the insignificance of the event of the fall to the overall scheme of life. The focal point for me is clearly that big read sleeve on the peasant. It pops that figure right out into the frontal plane. I imagine so that the bright yellow of the flaming sun wouldn’t come too far forward and instead receded back. That big red shape gets my attention right off and puts it squarely on the labor of man vs. the dreaming of the artist (Icarus). Of course, Bruegel is having fun with himself, right? Since after all he is Icarus here. He’s attempting to rise to the level of representing God’s creation where we all know the artist is doomed to certain failure.

      As to the de Kooning, nobody can decipher this kind of painting because it’s a pure expression of the subconscious. De Kooning wasn’t planning what “messages” would be in the painting. Just like with automatic drawing, you’re in a trance, as when “doodling”. Images emerge from the lines of their own accord. There’s probably been tons of pyschoanalytic explanations with de Kooning, his attitude toward women and his mother, etc. That goes on all the time. And not just with painters. John Lennon and his mother, etc etc.

      I have no interest in that kind of stuff when I’m looking at paintings. I don’t want to think of art in psychoanalytic terms. I love reading biographies, and that’s where I think about stuff like that. When I look at paintings I look at them as autonomous things that live and breathe on their own and have independent lives in their own right. The artist is the medium that the vision travels through. He’s got to train himself relentlessly to be able to do it well. It’s not just a matter of doodling on pads of paper.

  6. trueoutsider says:

    What always hits me with de Kooning is the absolute facility he has with the paint. One can also see this kind of action in Old Master drawings. Take a look at this other Dutch painter, for example. Compare the lines that are so loose and fluid that they’re almost detached from a description of a figure and are just recording the movement of the artists hand in connection with his mind.

    Then go back up to the De Kooning and just look at the bottom third of his painting. What astonishes me about de Kooning is how he can move paint with so much dexterity. Outside of Gorky, nobody else does it. Soutine paints like that on a small scale. But De Kooning was able to do it on a larger scale. He used extra long brushes. And he had specially concocted paint recipe suggested by Lenny Bocour, mixing kerosene and safflower oil initially and then getting rid of the kerosene. The safflower kept the paint frothy and wet. Most other painters would indeed just be slopping paint around and the colors would get muddy and they’d get into all kinds of trouble. De Kooning didn’t just slop it on. It was a really complex process in many of the paintings of this period. He rehearsed what he wanted to do after he’d begun the paintings by looking long and hard about where he wanted to take it, even using drawings on some kind of transparent vellum (at least that’s how it sometimes looked) and holding it up or taping it onto the painting to see how he’d put it on with his brushes, of which he had an assortment. In his mid period paintings he was using sign painter brushes for these really long and elegant lines that travel a mile.

    But the control of the lines are uncanny. He began his academic training in Rotterdam when he was 12 or 13, learning the whole academic thing, complete with paint making and cast studies, etc. etc. I saw a conte drawing of a still life that he did when he was still a teenager. The Met owns it. He completely mastered academic drawing in his teens. He was a figurative painter in the Great Depression. His drawings at that time resemble those of Ingres. He once said he wanted to wed Ingres and Soutine and that’s what you’re seeing in his later work. The fluid linear grace of Ingres and the dynamic forceful construction of the picture surface with energized dynamic paint. Just try to draw some of those lines with paint and see how hard it is to do.

    Here’s a small painting called Asheville that from recollection was on paper. The Phillips Collection in D.C. owns it. He got used to the kind of spatial construction he was interested in by drawing smaller studies before he got up to the larger scale. But the whole thing depends on a seemless connection between his visual mind and the brush. Think of how zen painters move the brush and that’s what de Kooning was doing. Just look below at the variety and versatility of the black brush lines. And the planes are defined and shift in and out. You also have to realize that he’d frequently scrape all the paint off with a palette knife or trowel or whatever. That would leave a beautiful scraped surface that he’d build back up. These things weren’t painted in a single session at this time. Just like Picasso, there were endless revisions. What knocks me out is that, just was with Picasso, it looks like it all happens magically at one moment. Look at how many revisions Picasso made to the D’emoiselles, finally leaving it unfinished. But there were dozens of preparatory sketches. These guys were trying to figure out a kind of space that had never existed before. Cubism started it all, and that came out of Cezanne. So generally it’s located with Cezanne as the father of Modernism. But you can also locate it back to Constable and Turner and Goya where you first get that paint as paint. Paint for it’s own sake, existing abstractly. And I’ve just posted the Rembrandt where you can see lines as just abstract lines.

    It took until the 20th century for the representational to fall away but it was an evolution that goes back a ways.

    • johnk823 says:

      The drawing above reminds me of Giambattista Tiepolo drawing style and the type of angles and alligory charactures he would constantly draw when preparing for a fresco painting. He was real big on these types of charactures in his work and depended on them alot in his work. It could also remind me of Michelangelios’ drawings for his fresco work. They were both great fresco painters and artists.

  7. trueoutsider says:

    PS, just looked it up. The de Kooning is listed as being on cardboard. Oil and enamel on cardboard. It’s just 25 x 31 inches, so a much smaller scale than the larger ones that he’d get into later. And also he developed the safflower paint concoction to give him the ability to do these smaller ones at the larger scale.

    It’s highly controlled and sophisticated work, believe me. I’ve used those dagger brushes and it takes a lot of practice to do what de Kooning seems to do so effortlessly with them. The hairs are really long and floppy. It’s hard to tell but I think it might have been Arshile Gorky who pioneered the use of those brushes. The main purpose to to get a fully loaded brush and make long tapering lines. But you really have to be in the “zone” to know what you’re doing. Both of these guys had painted for decades before they tried to work this way. The painters copying it made stuff that has nowhere near the strength or control. Most, though not all, painting like this is exactly what you call slop and splash done by painters who never learned to make perfected drawings. You can tell Gorky or De Kooning apart from the other kind of work in a second. Like I say, much of what came after these painters was largely “faux expressionism”, not to mention what was going on at the time. Recall the Guston/De Kooning shopping episode. DeKooning asks Phil how he’s feeling now that everyone was copying Guston. When De Kooning broke through with these paintings everybody and their brother started throwing paint around aimlessly to mimic what he did.

    That’s what I keep saying is wrong with people copying stuff instead of doing their own work to arrive at their own visions. De Kooning had spent decades to arrive at this point. It’s a pure vision. It’s not abstract expressionism. It’s not action painting. Those are words that distorted and disguised the whole thing. They’re simply de Kooning’s visions produced in states of complete concentration arriving at some kind of space that nobody had visited before.

    Hmm, let’s give de Kooning his own category.

    https://trueoutsider.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/willem-de-kooning/

  8. trueoutsider says:

    Here’s a good Beckmann made in 1917 where he transitions out of the standard Academic work into his mature style. It’s interesting the work beginning to show the same kind of formal and compositional concerns but prior to his hitting on the black paint and vivid color. He’s still holding onto the muted colors of the academy. But the subject becomes much more powerful and frontal.

    Also the choice of Christ’s Deposition, which was described by a critic perceptively as a kind of “mystical embitterment.”

    Here’s a quote from Beckmann from 1915: “Since I have been under fire I live through every shot again and have the wildest visions. The sketches for plates which I want to etch accumulate like victories in Galicia.”

  9. trueoutsider says:

    Another quote from 1915:
    “I’m always working on form. In drawing, in my mind, and in my sleep. Sometimes I think I will go mad, from all this tiring and tormenting lust. Everything else is swallowed up, time and space, and I always wonder how you paint the head of the resurrected against the red constellations of heaven on Judgement Day? Or how do you manage to blend together the mustache of the petty officer with his red nose as a life-like ornament or how will you now paint Minna, her knees drawn up and her head resting on her hand against the yellow wall with its pink reflection, or the glittering light which reveals itself in the blinding white of the air grenades against the sky, leaden white from the sun, and the wet sharp, pointed shadows of houses, or, or…. What I’ve done up to now, was merely apprenticeship. I’m still learning and expanding myself… In my own life, painting devours me. Poor pig that I am, I can only live in dreams. ”

    You can see from this quote and from the above painting that this is a painter breaking loose from the bonds of Academic painting. That kind of painting just can’t contain the kind of visionary experience and images going through his head along with what he’s experiencing. He needs to push into something else, even if at first it’s disjoined and not relying on anything that he’d clung to before.

    Much like Resnick says… the painter has to fall down down. The good painter will just let himself go there. The timid painter will rely on some kind of technique to keep him anchored in a more “normal” and stable world.

    That’s the difference between art and craft. The difference between painting and illustration. Beckmann is inside the the experience while he’s painting, he’s not standing back from a distance illustrating it.

  10. johnk823 says:

    Bart, Wow, thoseare some great posts you just made, plus the photos are awesome. Very informative and educational for me. I can see many things going on in the DeKooing and it does have it own kind of mystic adventure going on throughout. It make you wonder as an observer, “What were you thinking”! He must always be in a trance, imbued in cayotic disfunctional form of transmutation, that we might know someday. I think work like that, evenif he does have something in mind, himself, it has to be up to the observer to desifer what and if there is any meaning at all. It would depend on where you want to send yourself or if you even could. It almost like a map for a free ride. The question is – “Where am I going with this one”?

    I liked your post and explanations, as they make good sense in relation towhere he might be or not be. I guess he is in a zone alone and travels down a path that maybe only his minds eye knows.

    As for the 1917 Beckmann, I really like this one. I also like the softer colors used in it. In one sense it is kind of cartoonish to a degree, especially the handling as to the characters and the rolls each one is playing and acting out. The one foot of Christ looks almost like the nail is still in it with blood trickling to the ground, as if he was ripped of the cross. And His fingers look kind of like the grinchs fingers. This is one trippy piece. Thanks for posting this one, it pretty awesome.

    Steve, Hows that for an explanation on these two pieces? What’s your take?

    John

  11. johnk823 says:

    Steve, Glad you saw some humor in my discription of the De Kooing, as my first glance, thats kind of what I saw. De Kooing just might love it or he might think I;m nuts and tell me it was Dorthy and the Munchkin’s from the Wizard of Oz!

    We told you not to eat yogert and paint together and you did it anyway, see what happens, you get all caught up in those cups, swirling paint!

    Blessings, John

  12. johnk823 says:

    Bart, Somewhere you had posted a picture of Pollack, so add this video to that post.

    Blessings, John

  13. Steve says:

    I am waiting for a book from the library titled: Max Beckmann: Exile In Amsterdam. I’m eager to look at powerful expressive painting these days, and feel the expressionistic urge to paint this way myself. The thing I must watch out for in expressionism is the tendency to think that a work is done before it is resolved in every way. It’s an easy mistake to make because as soon as realistic likeness is pushed aside in favor of a deeper and more personal realism the guidelines fall away, the traditional standards of judgment disappear, and one is suddenly at sea, alone on a small boat. I think for that reason that I might chose still life as the subject matter for my own work, because as Roger Fry says in his essay on Cezanne: “…it is in the still-life that we frequently catch the purest self-revelation of the artist. In any other subject humanity intervenes. In still-life the ideas and emotions associated with the objects represented are , for the most part, so utterly common-place and insignificant that neither artist nor spectator need consider them. It is this fact that makes the still-life so valuable to the critic as a gauge of the artist’s personality. How many obscure points in Raphael’s artistic psychology might be clear up if we had a series of still-lifes by him.” Well, I don’t know how Fry felt about landscape, and I think that he is generalizing to make a point. But my intuition tells me that his point is well made; it registers solidly in my mind, providing impetus. So, how will an artist like Beckmann, who is all about humanity, fit into this concept? I shall be looking at the objects off to the side in his paintings as much as at the great figure compositions and expressions of suffering, sorrow, horror, and terrible social fact. It won’t be easy because he is such a great ‘human’ painter. For example, in the crucifixion painting above only the ladder , crown of thorns, and a couple of rocks on the ground are non-human forms. But I will be paying close attention to those parts of his paintings.

    • trueoutsider says:

      I have that Beckmann book. It’s excellent. Beckmann was also a great pure still-life painter. He was the artist’s artist. Here are Cezanne’s skulls, mixed with references to Cezanne’s card players as well, note!

      The last week I’ve become really obsessively looking at Dürer, especially his engravings and woodcuts. Philip Guston kept a reproduction of Dürer’s Melancholia up wherever he had his studio. Here’s just the angel. Dürer’s vision is hallucinogenic. His conception of form, from the shaping of the composition to each small detail is powerful beyond words. The German artists going back to Cranach, Altdorfer, Hans Baldung Grien, Schongauer, Grünewald and Dürer are good sources as well to look at. Those guys could really draw the demons! I’m going to begin a new post on Dürer next. I’m really deluged with things, but I’m going to do my best to get him on the board.

      • Steve says:

        I love the Beckmann still-life. That’s what I’m talking about. It reminds me of some of Picasso’s still-lifes with lobsters and cats and candelabras.
        I’ve always been intrigued by Durer. His watercolor rabbit fascinated me in high school before I ever held a paint brush. In fact I did a fresco painting of a wild rabbit that lived in our woodpile for a couple of years, and it had that same kind of pose that Durer’s rabbit has: listening for any sound, ready to jump. ( I’ll never paint another rabbit, but that’s another story ). The Durer painting that most captivates me every time I see it is his self portrait. He looks like a rock star. Long beautiful very curly hair, clear incisive eyes. A very long distance between his eyes and perfect lips , not because the nose is so long itself but because of elongated cheeks. And the most delicate hand this side of Botticelli or Fragonard. Lush brown velvet fur-collared coat. How did this supremely intellectual and civilized looking man draw such apocalyptic visions ?
        You mention Grunewald too, whose crucifixion is still the gnarliest most tortured twisted version of Christ on the cross ever painted, that I know of anyway.

  14. trueoutsider says:

    The book I’ve been looking at obsessively is Norbert Wolf’s Albrecht Dürer. The rock star portrait is the whole cover and it’s beautifully reproduced. The whole book is a treasure. It’s some of the best reproductions I’ve ever seen. I have a couple other Dürer books, but this volume is in a league of its own for being able to see the graphic work with clarity…. blow up details. Wow! In his time, Dürer WAS the rock star of Nuremberg. People in those times had eyes. We’re stuck with Andy Warhol and stick figure art enthusiasts.

    To visit Dürer’s apocalypse go here:

    https://trueoutsider.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/albrecht-durers-apocalypse/

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