"Self-Portrait in Tuxedo," Max Beckman (1927)
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The following comes from the guide that accompanied the exhibit, "From Modern Art to "Degenerate" Art: German Culture, Politics, and the Avant-Garde, 1910-1948. Busch-Reisinger Museum:
- Describe Beckmann's visual self-presentation—his clothing, gestures, bodily stance, expression, and use of light, shadow, and color in both his body and the setting.
- Max Beckmann painted this self-portrait in 1927, at the height of his fame and success. How would you describe the attitude he conveys in the self-portrait? What is Beckmann communicating about his identity and his place in society, and how? What stereotypes about artists does the painting challenge?
- How does Beckmann create a relationship between himself and the viewer, and how would you describe the relationship? If you were standing in front of this painting in the Berlin National Gallery in 1928, what might you deduce about the role of modern art and the artist in the Weimar Republic?
- Also in 1927, Beckmann published an essay titled "The Artist and the State," in which he argued that through modern art, people could free themselves from old belief systems and become aware of their own power. Such liberated human beigns could build a new, balanced, spiritual and cultural order. The new signs of success would be not money, but equilibrium and self-reliance:
The new priests of this cultural [order] must be dressed in dark suits or on state occasions appear in tuxedo. . . . Workers, moreover, should likewise appear in tuxedo or tails. Which is to say: We seek a kind of aristocratic Bolshevism. A social equalization, the fundamental principle of which is. . . the conscuous and organized drive to become God ourselves. . . . To be God, each one of us must share responsibility for the whole. We can no longer depend on anything other than ourselves.1
Beckmann also wrote that it was the artist's duty to present utopian visions to society: " . . . someone has to make the first step, if only in the realm of ideas." How does Beckmann's self-portrait represent his idea of social equality and inner equilibrium? Discuss Beckmann's statement: What does he contribute to the Weimar-era debate on how to form a modern, democratic culture?
- The term Neue Sachlichkeit “new sobriety” or “new objectivity” was often applied to Beckmann’s style in the late 1920s--a term also applied to Grosz’s and Dix’s work. Unlike them, Beckmann saw his “objectivity” arising from love for fellow human beings, not bitterness toward them. The implications of this term can be discussed with regards to all three artists: How does it suggest a new understanding of realism, truth telling, or accuracy in art?2
Related Resources from Facing History:
- FACING HISTORY CAMPUS -- Analyzing Visual Images. This teaching strategy document created by a Facing History and Ourselves program associate is a helpful tool for bringing art into your classroom.
1 Max Beckmann, "The Artist and the State," in Self-portrait in Words: Collected Writings and Statements, 1903-1950, ed. Barbara Copeland Buenger (Chicago, 1997), 288-289.
2 Sarah M. Miller, From Modern Art to “Degenerate Art”: German Culture, Politics, and the Avant-Garde, 1910-1948, A Guide to Teaching with Art from the Permanent Collection of the Busch-Reisinger Museum, 141, 241. Reproduced by permission of the Harvard Art Museums.
Primary Sources: Culture
- Bauhaus Building, Dessau, designed by Walter Gropius (1924)
- Glass Tea Service, designed by Wilhelm Wagenfeld (1930-1934)
- Nest of Tables, designed by Marcel Breuer (1926-1930)
- Side Chair, designed by Mies Van Der Rohe (c. 1932)
- Table Lamp, designed by Christian Dell (1928)
- "It's All a Swindle" (Alles Schwindel), by Mischa Spoliansky and Marcellus Schiffer (1931)
- "Mir ist heut so nach Tamerlan!", music by Rudolf Nelson, lyrics by Kurt Tucholsky (1922)
- "Night Ghost" (Nachtgespenst), music by Rudolf Nelson, lyrics by Friedrich Hollaender (1930)
- "No Time" (Keine Zeit), music by Rudolf Nelson, lyrics by Herbert Nelson
- "The Lavender Song" (Das Lila Lied), music by Mischa Spoliansky, lyrics by Kurt Schwabach (1920)
- "Throw Out the Men" (Raus mit den Männern), by Friedrich Hollaender (1926)
- "Blue Angel," starring Marlene Dietrich (1930)
- "Metropolis," directed by Fritz Lang (1926)
- "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," directed by Robert Wiene (1919)
- "The Sacred Mountain" (Der heilige Berg), directed by Leni Riefenstahl (1924)
- "Eldorado," Otto Dix
- "Kitchen Knife," Hannah Hoch (1919)
- "Memorial for Karl Liebknecht," Käthe Kollwitz (1921)
- "Metamorphose." by John Heartfield
- "Metropolis" (Gross Stadt), Otto Dix (1928)
- "Never Again War," Käthe Kollwitz (1924)
- "Pillars of Society," George Grosz (1926)
- "Self-Portrait in Tuxedo," Max Beckman (1927)
- "Synagogue," Max Beckman (1919)
- "The Agitator," George Grosz (1928)
- "The White General," George Grosz (1919)
- "Wounded," Otto Dix (1916)