Max Beckmann in Munch

Max Beckmann in Munch

Another trip, this time back to Bavaria again. Southern Germany has become a centre for astrophysical research you know. I spent ten days in Garching, Munich. Where once there were fields there are now hundreds of astronomers. Miles outside the city, far from the beer-halls and car factories. Out there, around the nucleus of the Garching nuclear reactor, a city is growing, populated by students of the physical sciences. A recent important event: recently, after twenty years of waiting, line six of the Munich U-bahn has finally reached Garching-Forschungzentrum, and the walls of the station there are covered with diagrams details the discoveries of generations of (mostly German) scientists specializing in this the most profound of all physical sciences. And of course, out here in the countryside, the laws of nature are just the same as in the centre of Paris.

Of course I made frequent trips into town to see what there was to see. My first week there was with fog and snow and the city became a distinct, unreal thing. Heavy snow fell one day after I arrived. On the Saturday, through the mist and feeble winter light, I was just about able to find my way to that great Munich institution, the Volksbad, and after about half an hour of wandering around inside I found my cabinet and thence to the pool. From the outside, the Volksbad looks more like a church than a swimming pool, it has a clock tower, a nave…when I first saw it I thought: that’s really a swimming pool?….A week without swimming my lengths and I felt stiff and my thoughts were sluggish, no matter how much coffee I drank from my moka.

And on the Sunday afternoon I went with a friend to see a temporary exhibition of the works of Max Beckmann at the Pinakothek der Moderne. The same morning, I went to the Alte Pinakothek to see once more some of Durer’s paintings that I had not seen since the last time I was there, almost fifteen years previously. I stared at Mr. Durer’s self-portrait and he stared back at me across the five centuries which separated us. Meanwhile, from the windows, I could see three enormous Max Beckmann reproductions hanging from the walls of the Pinakothek der Moderne…

Almost all of Beckmann’s works presented at the Pinakothek der Moderne were paintings he made in exile. Hitler’s Germany was particularly unpleasant place for him: his works were featured in the Nazis “Degenerate art” exhibition, and Beckmann left for Amsterdam on the exhibition’s opening day. Five hundred of his paintings were confiscated. At a time when a many European painters had abandoned figuration for the snowy wastes of abstraction, Beckman’s paintings were filled with meaning and allegory which mirrored directly the chaotic and violent world which surrounded him. Walking through the gallery my mind returned again to Pierre Bonnard, who, at the same time, Europe in flames, was meticulously searching for the ideal painting of his wife lying in the bath…One of my favourite Beckmann is “Dream of Monte-Carlo” (“Traum von Monte-Carlo”). Croupiers with swords place cards on a green baize table whilst they are shadowed by hooded men carrying fizzing bombs…Beckmann also re-invented the triptych (and that morning I had seen one of Durer’s famous ones) which had laid dormant since the middle ages. He filled large canvases with themes of exile and departure…
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