Max Beckmann in St. Louis
Max Beckmann in St. Louis
Following his crossing from the Netherlands, which began on 29 August 1947, and a brief stay in New York, Max and Mathilde Q. Beckmann took the train to St. Louis, Missouri, where they arrived on 18 September 1947. At Washington University Art School in St. Louis, the painter was temporarily given the position of the painter Philipp Guston, who was in Europe at the time.
Although the pay was not exorbitant, Beckmann was optimistic and enjoyed the attentions of the numerous “Beckmannians” he met in St. Louis. In spite of all the challenges that came with beginning a new life in another culture and language, he was delighted by the desperately needed ”change of scenery” after being effectively imprisoned in Amsterdam. Beckmann was fascinated by the lushness of the gardens in St. Louis, the huge spaces of Forest Park and the mighty Mississippi. After his first impressions on the day of his arrival in St. Louis, he wrote: “It is possible that here it may be possible to live again.” (Journal, 18 September 1947)
Among his most important acquaintances who tended to him and made his life easier in his new environs were the director of the Art School Kenneth Hudson, the student Walter Barker, the department store magnate and Beckmann collector Morton D. May with his wife Marge, Joe and Louise Pulitzer and the director of the St. Louis Art Museum, Perry Rathbone and his wife Euretta. The latter were the driving force in obtaining the teaching position for Beckmann in St. Louis. The painter and his wife moved into an apartment on campus, and Beckmann had his own studio. He taught a class of art students and was positively surprised by the experience in spite of initial concerns about the language.
Numerous parties held in Beckmann's honour presented a stark contrast to his years of anonymity in exile. One highlight for the painter was presumably the opening of the Beckmann retrospective, which was attended by 800 guests in May 1948 at the City Art Museum in St. Louis.
Beckmann's late period begins in America and resolutely continues what had been his artistic concern from the outset: the encounter with the human figure and the translation of the three-dimensional space onto the painter's two-dimensional surface, as well as continual re-examination of the self. Max Beckmann lived in St. Louis until June 1949. In 1948 he returned to Amsterdam once again to dispose of the flat there. After his final return to the United States, he began his second stint in St. Louis, which lasted until he moved to New York in the summer of 1949. From there he travelled one last time in the year of his death to St. Louis to receive an honorary doctorate from Washington University.