Special exhibition: Max Beckmann

Max Beckmann: Abfahrt [Departure], painting (1932 - 1935)

Painting: Max Beckmann, Departure
Max Beckmann: Departure, Triptych 1932-1935
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Fotoabteilung, Museum of Modern Art, New York © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015
Special exhibition: Max Beckmann

Max Beckmann: Abfahrt [Departure], painting (1932 - 1935)

In Beckmann’s own list of his works, the titles of the individual paintings of the triptych are: The Castle (left), The Staircase (right) and The Homecoming (middle painting).

All the paintings have the same height of 215.5cm, while the middle painting, at 115cm, is just a little wider than the side paintings at 99.5 cm each. Therefore the side paintings have considerable significance from the outset. They show bleak interiors with disturbing scenes, while in the middle painting we see the openness and breadth of the sea and the sky, and a royal family with their helpers on a bright, sunny day.

The title of the whole triptych, “Departure”, is used by Beckmann for the first time in his correspondence with the artist Curt Valentin.  In a letter to him on 11 February 1938, the artist baulks from explaining the work on the one hand, while also giving an important hint, which he then tries to modify immediately:
“Departure, yes departure from the deceptive appearance of life to the fundamental things in themselves that stand behind this appearance. However, this ultimately applies to all my paintings. But, all that’s certain is that “Departure” is not a tendentious piece, and can be applied to any period.  - ”  (ed. trans.)

Although Max Beckmann was subjected to increasing hostilities from the Nazis from 1932 on, he was not depicting a departure of the political kind in the triptych, was not hinting at a potential exile – in fact, for him politics was part of the “deceptive appearance of life”. The journey to the “fundamental things in themselves” is connected to the acquisition of freedom, as Beckmann explained the child of the royal couple to Lily von Schnitzler, and at the same time it is a “homecoming”.

While the painter denies that the painting is a “tendency piece”, that is, a political painting, its creation in the years 1932 to 1935 makes it clear that Beckmann wanted to make a declaration with this ambitious format, intended for the public, which is also indirectly about politics, because a kind of “inner emigration” is the topic here, and while this does not only relate to politics, it certainly includes this field.