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Vor dem ball (zwei frauen mit katze)(before the ball - two women with a cat)
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About the item

Painted in 1949, Vor dem Ball (Zwei Frauen mit Katze) is an intensely evocative work which exemplifies the bold depictions of women Beckmann carried out in America during the final years of his life. Throughout his career femininity was central to his iconography. Beckmann's women are frequently shown preparing for, or at, nightclubs, cabarets or circuses dressed in brilliantly coloured clothes and assertively posed (fig. 1 & 2). Eva Reifert explains: ‘Max Beckmann’s depictions of women frequently impart an ideological foundation. While the watchful eye he kept on political affairs and his stature as both man and artist are nowhere more clearly reflected than in his self-portraits, his portrayal of women, in their superior calm, form a contrast to such an immediate and direct response to the times. Regardless of whether these depictions of women are portraits or personifications of fundamental principles, in many works the women seem to anticipate, like projections into another time, a state of removed-from-the world supremacy. […] The fateful attraction of the sexes also ranks as a fundamentally human theme in Beckmann’s œuvre. The woman becomes temptation incarnate, with Beckmann often lending her a mysterious, shady-erotic presence through attributes such as masks or veils’ (E. Reifert in Women. Picasso, Beckmann, de Kooning (exhibition catalogue), Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, 2012, p. 269).\n\nThe present work was painted during the first year the artist lived in New York. The urban environment captivated Beckmann. In Europe, cities such as Frankfurt, Berlin and Amsterdam continuously provided him with a wealth of inspiration drawn from every stratum of society - from the glamorous café-bar to the brothel. The cast of characters that populated Beckmann's work from the 1930s onwards continued to evolve during his years in America. In New York Beckmann sought to acquaint himself with some of the city's most iniquitous spots - including the Bowery - where Perry T. Rathbone observed 'the music was loud and brash, the lights harsh, and the drinks watered. Yet there was such an assortment of Bowery types, inebriates, exhibitionists, bar flies both comic and tragic, that Max was fascinated' (quoted in Beckmann & America (exhibition catalogue), Städel Museum, Frankfurt, 2011, p. 202). The mysterious intensity of the women in Vor dem Ball (Zwei Frauen mit Katze) may derive from the uncertain propriety of their setting. The nearest figure is exotically dressed in pink and black silks and heavy gold jewellery whilst her more conventionally attired companion bears a striking resemblance to the blonde pierrette in Fastnacht-Maske grün violette und rosa (Columbine) (fig. 2) which Beckmann painted the following year. They relate to their counterparts in his monumental triptychs, most of which are now in museums across America. Actors, dancers, clowns -  performers of every stripe - these were the figures who Beckmann chose to express his dramatic vision of the modern metropolis.\n\nBeckmann had long held a desire to go to America. Unfortunately the pre-1940 volumes of his diary were destroyed for fear that the anti-Nazi sentiments they contained might incriminate him under their regime. However, in the first of the surviving manuscripts the entry for 4th May 1940 reads: ‘America waits for me with a job in Chicago and the local American consulate doesn’t give me a visa’ (quoted in Max Beckmann (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1964, p. 123). It was not until seven years later, under the auspices of the University of Washington in St. Louis, that Beckmann finally made the journey to the United States. Perry T. Rathbone, the director of the St. Louis Art Museum, arranged for the artist to be appointed to a teaching position at the School of Fine Arts of Washington University. After a short sojourn to the South of France, Beckmann and his wife arrived in America on 8th September 1947.\n\nIn 1949 Beckmann found himself in New York, having accepted a teaching position at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. Rathbone describes the conditions of Beckmann’s New York studio: ‘In St. Louis he had a proper studio in a University building with north light pouring through a studio window. In New York he was less fortunate, as studios were extremely expensive. Consequently, he twice rented an old apartment with high ceilings and at least one spacious room. The first one was in an early nineteenth-century house on East 19th Street, near Gramercy Park. The second was a roomy first floor of one of the once-fashionable houses of the turn of the century on West 69th Street. The relentless mahogany panelling one can never forget; its imperturbable solid dignity; its built-in mirrors and glazed-tile hearths must have reminded Max somehow of the security of life that prevailed in the days of his first success in Berlin. Lacking sufficient light in both apartments, he had the biggest room equipped with a battery of large fluorescent tubes which simulated daylight and which, incidentally, extended his studio hours. Now he was able to paint at night, and during the day. To keep the bright overhead lights from falling directly into his eyes, he wore a green shade which he would give to the visitor to wear when coming to the studio to see the latest works’ (P. T. Rathbone in ibid., p. 130).\n\nBeckmann’s arrival in America made a profound impact upon the burgeoning artists of the time. In 1948 he delivered a lecture to the students at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston which was attended by the young Ellsworth Kelly, who recalled that: ‘It was not long before his death, and he looked tired but was still jovial. At that time he was the most important painter that I had come in contact with. It was a very significant event of my life. […] Every time I see a Beckmann, I’m impressed by the content of his work, his structure, colour, and especially his brushwork. Even though my work is not Expressionist, Beckmann’s visual force has informed my painting and my admiration for his art only grows with time’ (E. Kelly in Beckmann (exhibition catalogue), Tate Modern, London, 2003, p. 237). The sheer exuberance of Beckmann’s imagery and the bravura technique in which it is executed helped to define the artist as a truly contemporary visionary whose œuvre at every turn anticipates and comments upon the political and ideological shifts of the day. The works he produced in Amsterdam are pervaded by the underlying threat of National Socialism (fig. 4), just as his pre-war Frankfurt works remark upon the hardships of Weimar Germany. Beckmann’s American paintings, such as Vor dem Ball (Zwei Frauen mit Katze), are celebrations of liberty.\nSigned Max Beckmann and dated NY 49 (upper left)
GB
GB
GB

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Max Beckmann

condition

The canvas is lined. There is no evidence of retouching under ultra-violet light. This work is in very good condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although the colours are slightly brighter and less red in the original. "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."

dimensions

142.5 by 89cm.

exhibition

Beverly Hills, Frank Perls, Max Beckmann, 1950 New York, Catherine Viviano Gallery, Twelve Paintings of Women by Max Beckmann, 1967, no. 11, illustrated in the catalogue

literature

Artist’s Handlist, no. 17, listed as Vor dem Ball Erhard & Barbara Göpel, Max Beckmann, Katalog der Gemälde, Bern, 1976, vol. I, no. 796, catalogued p. 483; vol. II, no. 796, illustrated pl. 296

provenance

Private Collection, New York Galerie Neuendorf, Hamburg Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1986

signedDate

Signed Max Beckmann and dated NY 49 (upper left)

time_period

Painted in New York in 1949.

consignmentDesignation

Property from a Private European Collection

creator_nationality_dates

1884 - 1950





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