Although Beckmann denied that Departure carried any specific political content, the painting has come to be seen as one of the emblematic artistic responses to Hitler’s Germany. It was begun at the time that the Nazis fired Beckmann from his professorship at the Frankfurt Art Academy, and presages his forced emigration. Departure is the first of Beckmann’s several major paintings in the form of a triptych, a three-part format that recalls medieval or Renaissance altarpieces. The elaborate narrative includes scenes of sin and salvation, but what makes the painting modern is the deliberate ambiguity of its iconography. When the New York City art dealer who bought the painting in 1937 wrote to Beckmann to say that his visitors wanted specific explanations of the images, the artist replied "if people cannot understand it of their own accord, . . . there is no sense in showing it."
Gallery label from 2012.