Collection 1880s–1940s

57 / 61

Max Beckmann. Departure. Frankfurt 1932, Berlin 1933-35 562

Oil on canvas, three panels, Side panels 7' 3/4" x 39 1/4" (215.3 x 99.7 cm), center panel 7' 3/4" x 45 3/8" (215.3 x 115.2 cm). Given anonymously (by exchange). © 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Curator, Starr Figura: This monumental painting is called Departure, and it's by Max Beckmann.

The period when this painting was made was a period of political and personal crisis for Beckmann. He was persecuted by the Nazis almost as soon as they came into power in 1933. They forced him out of his job as a professor. Beckmann's works were confiscated from German museums. Some of them were destroyed. He eventually had to flee Germany. So all of that sense of turmoil is bound up in this painting.

There's a feeling of compression, of crampedness, of figures all on top of each other. And then he also used black to outline his figures and to give everything a certain weight and gravity.

So in the two side panels, we see figures who are bound up, who have gags over their mouths, a man wielding a giant club. There's a tremendous sense of violence, of oppression, repression, restriction.

But then by contrast, the center panel has a feeling of calm, and hope. These are passengers on a boat. There's a beautiful blue sky, and a calm horizon. It’s as if they are moving through the darkness and horror towards something more hopeful.

Beckmann, himself, refused to say what was actually going on. It's up to us to look closely and interpret for ourselves what's really going on.