Max Beckmann self-portrait about to fetch record price at German auction

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A moody self-portrait by 20th-century expressionist Max Beckmann painted during his Dutch exile from the Nazis is expected to break the record for a guaranteed auction price in Germany when it goes up for auction in Berlin next week.

Art lovers flocked first to New York and then to Berlin to see the painting at preview screenings, offering a rare chance to see a masterpiece that has always been in private hands.

It’s unlikely a museum would buy it in the December 1 sale due to its astronomical price, but it could instead go to another individual collector, meaning it may not be possible to see it again.

Selbstbildnis gelb-pink (Yellow-Pink Self-Portrait), painted between 1943 and 1944, is valued at between 20 and 30 million euros, the highest pre-sale tag for a work of art in Germany, in what market experts suggest may herald a new it was prestigious for German art. auctions

The Villa Grisebach auction house has for years been in the shadow of its better-known New York and London competitors such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Grisebach’s director, Micaela Kapitzky, said she appreciated the attention the sale, the result, she said, of years of building trust with the painting’s owner, was now bringing to Germany’s art market.

“It is a great sign of confidence in the German market, and this marks a unique opportunity for collectors that will not appear again,” he said. Having had the privilege, he said, of having the painting in his own office before it went on display, he said: “Whoever is lucky enough to own this will recognize what a welcome presence it is. Despite the difficult circumstances in which she was created, the figure exudes incredible strength and warmth. It’s ever-present, aided by its larger-than-life size, and it won’t let you go.”

Beckmann left Germany for Amsterdam in 1937 one day after hearing Adolf Hitler deliver a speech condemning “degenerate” artists. Authorities later confiscated 500 of his works from museums. Beckmann and his wife, Mathilde, known as Quappi, would never return and immigrated to the US a decade later, where she died in 1950.

When Amsterdam was invaded by German troops in 1940, he ceased to be a safe haven and retreated to his studio in a former canalside tobacco warehouse, where his painting, particularly his self-portraits, became the key to his survival. , or as the art critic Eugen Blume put it, “emblematic expressions of the spiritual crisis he endured”. The decade that he spent in the Dutch city became his most prolific stage.

“Beckmann had to watch helplessly as the German occupiers interned Dutch Jews, including personal friends of his, in the Westerbork concentration camp,” according to Blume. Beckmann narrowly avoided being called up due to heart disease, but he lived in constant fear of arrest or confiscation of his paintings. “Retreating to his workshop…it became a self-imposed obligation that protected him from breaking down,” Blume said.

The artist wrote in his diary: “Silent death and conflagration around me, and yet I am still alive.”

According to Kapitzky, Beckmann “gave several of his self-portraits to Quappi, and then took them from him to give to friends or sell. But this he clung to and never let go until his death in 1986.

“Very possibly this is due to what it represented,” he added. “He has painted himself as a young man and he is full of vitality and an inner strength and defiance, his will to get through this difficult time, and there is also his calm and enigmatic smile.”

Art historians are struck by Beckmann’s unusual use of bright colors in the work, especially the yellow fabric and raw fur trim of what is possibly a gown, or a nod to his depictions of what he called the figure of their “artist king”, which expresses sovereignty. about himself, at a time when he often felt trapped.

This image would be increasingly overshadowed by his refugee status, with Beckmann describing the figure he embodied as “seeking his homeland, but having lost his home along the way.”

The work is sold by the family of a Bremen business lawyer who had lived in Switzerland until his death in 2006, who had purchased it from the Beckmann family. The self-portrait was considered the most precious object in his art collection, which included other graphics by Beckmann and Pablo Picasso, some of which have already been auctioned in New York.

Grisebach’s Martin Krause, who will run the auction, said the price estimate of up to 30 million euros was realistic. Another Beckmann painting, Bird’s Hell, sold at Christie’s in London five years ago for £36 million (€41 million at the time), its asking price being much lower than the painting currently on sale. His Self-Portrait with Trumpet sold at auction in New York for $22.5 million more than two decades ago.

It was another Beckmann painting, The Egyptian, from 1942, which in 2018 fetched what is currently the highest price ever raised at a German auction: €4.7 million, more than double its estimate of €2 million. .

“Judging by Beckmann’s previous auctions, and due to the rarity of this work, we expect a large number of potential buyers, in the room, online and on the phone, and that the competition will be quite fierce and fervent. Krause said. “My job will be to stay as calm as I can in the heat of the drama.”

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