Max Beckmann blended the real and the imaginary in his final print cycle, Day and Dream, filtering autobiographical elements from his exile in Holland, biblical and mythological tales, and scenes of sexual conflict through his vision of the world as a circus or theater. Oblivious lovers dance while the figure War slumbers, threatening to awake at any moment. Demagogues rise. Children refuse to eat their soup. Beckmann here revisited subjects he had explored throughout his career, suggesting that nothing changes and everything comes back.
Beckmann depicted himself throughout the portfolio, appearing as a figure who has seen and experienced it all. In the final print, he stands as Pontius Pilate across from the crucified Jesus. After another world war, Beckmann held little hope for salvation—for himself or for humanity.
In 1946, the New York gallerist Curt Valentin commissioned Beckmann to make a portfolio of prints for the American market. Valentin, a German expatriate and instrumental supporter of artists persecuted by the Nazis, left the choices of subject matter and medium to the artist. Beckmann, who had not made prints since 1942, responded enthusiastically to the offer, writing to Valentin that he was "teeming with ideas." This resulting portfolio of fifteen lithographs, initially titled Time-Motion, sums up a lifetime of his artistic themes.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.