Max Beckmann Descent from the Cross 1917

  • Not on view

Max Beckmann's Kreuzabnahme (Descent from the cross) presents an unflinching look at bodily suffering—a timely topic in the midst of a seemingly never-ending war. Multiple perspectives are combined to focus the eye on Jesus's oversize corpse, his pale flesh covered in bruises and sores, with coagulated blood pooling around the gaping black holes of the stigmata. His emaciated arms stretch across the picture and in their rigor mortis still mirror the shape of the cross. Beckmann thinly and precisely applied paint in cold, restrained hues, in contrast to his exuberant brushwork for his prewar canvases.

Beckmann possibly made this painting to answer a challenge posed by curator Gustav Hartmann to create a modern work as powerful as medieval German art, which they had viewed together in Frankfurt (along with works by Italian, Flemish, and German Old Masters that significantly influenced Beckmann's style). Beckmann, after spending a few years making only prints, had recently returned to painting.

Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.
Oil on canvas
59 1/2 x 50 3/4" (151.2 x 128.9 cm)
Curt Valentin Bequest
Object number
© 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Painting and Sculpture

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Provenance Research Project

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.

The artist, Frankfurt; sold to Georg Hartmann (1870-1954), Frankfurt; returned to the artist [1]; sold to the Städelsches Kunstinstitut and Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt am Main, 1919 [2]; removed as "degenerate art" by the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, October 26, 1936 [3]; on consignment to Karl Buchholz (1901-1992), Berlin, 1938; to Curt Valentin (1902-1954), New York (sold April 21, 1941) [4]; Estate of Curt Valentin, New York, 1954; acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1955 (Curt Valentin Bequest).
[1] The painting was first acquired by Georg Hartmann, but then returned to the Beckmann's studio, because it apparently upset Hartmann's wife (see Göpel 192, p. 134).
[2] Purchased from Beckmann under Director Georg Swarzenski in 1919 (Inv. no. SG 291).
[3] See Beschlagnahmeinventar "Entartete Kunst", "Degenerate Art" Research Center, FU Berlin). See Sara Eskilsson Werwigk, "Ein Gemälde geht ins Exil: Auf den Spuren der Kreuzabnahme von Max Beckmann," Uwe Fleckner, ed., Das verfemte Meisterwerk, Berlin: Akademieverlag, 2009, pp. 105-135). EK inventory number: 15933 (Kreuzabnahme). Included in the exhibitions Der Bolschewismus - große antibolschewistische Schau, Deutsches Museum, Munich, November 7, 1936-January 31, 1937; and Entartete Kunst, Munich (July 19-November 30, 1937) and other venues (Berlin, Leipzig, Düsseldorf, Salzburg, Stettin, Weimar, Vienna). See Beschlagnahmeinventar "Entartete Kunst", "Degenerate Art" Research Center, FU Berlin .
[4] Included in the exhibition Landmarks in Modern German Art, Buchholz Gallery, New York, April 2-27, 1940 (no. 1).

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