A sullen self-portrait of 20th-century expressionist Max Beckmann, painted during his Dutch exile from the Nazis, is predicted to break the record price set at an auction in Germany when it goes under the hammer in Berlin next week.
Art lovers flocked first to New York and then to Berlin to see the painting at previews, providing a rare opportunity to see a masterpiece that has always been in private hands.
It is unlikely that it will be bought by the museum in the December 1st sale due to its astronomical price tag, but it could go to another individual collector instead, meaning it will not be possible to see it again.
Selbstbildnis gelb-rosa (Self-portrait “Yellow-pink”), painted between 1943 and 1944, is valued at between 20 and 30 million euros, the highest pre-sale price for a work of art in Germany, which, according to market experts, could herald a new prestigious era for German art. auctions.
The auction house Villa Grisebach has been overshadowed by its more established New York and London competitors such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s for years. Grisebach’s director, Mikaela Kapicki, said she welcomes the long overdue attention that the sale – the result, she says, of years of building trust with the painting’s owner – has now brought to the German art market.
“This is a great sign of confidence in the German market and a unique opportunity for collectors that will never come again,” she said. Having the honor of having the painting in her own office before it was put on display, she said: “Whoever is lucky enough to own it will realize what a pleasant presence it is. Despite the difficult circumstances in which it was created, the figure radiates incredible strength and warmth. He’s ubiquitous, helped by his incredible size, and won’t let you go.”
Beckmann left Germany for Amsterdam in 1937, the day after he heard Adolf Hitler’s speech denouncing “degenerate” artists. Authorities subsequently confiscated 500 of his works from museums. Beckmann and his wife Mathilde, known as Kuappi, never returned, emigrating to the US ten years later, where he died in 1950.
When Amsterdam was captured by German forces in 1940, it was no longer a safe haven, and he retired to his studio in an old canal tobacco warehouse, where his paintings, especially his self-portraits, became the key to his survival. art historian Eugen Blume said: “a symbolic expression of the spiritual crisis he went through.” The decade spent in Amsterdam was his most fruitful period.
“Beckmann had to helplessly watch as the German occupiers interned Dutch Jews, among whom were his personal friends, in the Westerbork concentration camp,” Blume says. Beckmann narrowly escaped the draft due to heart disease, but lived in constant fear that he might be arrested or his paintings confiscated. “Going into his atelier … became a self-imposed commitment that protected him from a breakdown,” Blum said.
The artist wrote in his diary: “Silent death and fire around me, but I still live.”
According to Kapitsky, Beckmann “gave Quappee some of his self-portraits and then variously took them away from her to give to friends or to sell. But for this she clung and did not let go until her death in 1986.
“Maybe it’s because of what it meant,” she added. “He painted himself as a young man, and he has vitality, inner strength and audacity, his will to overcome this difficult time, as well as his calm, enigmatic smile.”
Art historians are struck by Beckman’s unusual use of bright colors in the work, especially the yellow fabric and bright fur trim of what is possibly a robe, or an allusion to his depictions of what he called his “artist king” figure, expressing sovereignty. above him, while he often felt trapped.
But this image was to be increasingly overshadowed by his status as a refugee, as Beckmann described the figure he embodied as “searching for his homeland but losing his home along the way.”
The work is sold by the family of a commercial lawyer from Bremen, who lived in Switzerland until his death in 2006, who acquired it from the Beckmann family. The self-portrait was considered the most valuable item in his art collection, which included other graphic works by Beckmann and Pablo Picasso, some of which had already been auctioned off in New York.
Grisebach’s Martin Krause, who will host the auction, said a price estimate of up to 30 million euros was realistic. Another Beckman painting, Bird Hell, sold at Christie’s in London five years ago for £36 million (€41 million at the time) and its asking price was much lower than the painting currently up for sale. time. His “Self-portrait with Trumpet” sold at auction in New York for $22.5 million over two decades ago.
It was another Beckmann painting, The Egyptian, from 1942, which in 2018 reached the highest price ever listed at a German auction at €4.7 million, more than double its estimate of €2 million.
“Based on previous Beckmann auctions, and due to the rarity of this work, we expect a large number of potential buyers in the hall, online and by phone, and the competition will be quite tough and hot. Krause said. “My job will be to stay as cool as possible in the heat of the drama.”