One may say that the three recipes of success would be talent, fortune and family sacrifice. Max Beckmann, one of the most talented German artists in the 20th century, possessed all three. He achieved success through talent and fortune at an early age and was able to get back on his feet, thanks to his wife, when his career was in jeopardy.
This painting is a double self-portrait by Beckmann at the age of 57. The woman in the painting is his second wife, Matilde von Kaulbach, who was a talented musician but decided to support her husband when she married Beckmann, 20 years older than she, at the age of 21. The couple in the painting had been in their fourth year of exile in the Netherlands.
During his life in Germany, Beckmann garnered public attention with his portraits and socially critical paintings that reflected the terrors and anxieties of war, became a professor at the Stadelschule Academy of Fine Art and won major awards. When Hitler took office, however, his dislike for Beckmann led to dismissal of his teaching, calling his work degenerate art. When around 500 pieces of his artwork exhibited across art museums in Germany were confiscated, he left Germany with his wife.
The couple in the painting were enduring the hardest time of their lives. They were poor being in exile, but they put on their best. They are looking in the same direction, but do not stand in parallel. The artist depicts himself walking ahead of his wife, larger than he. The dark brown suit marks his presence in contrast to the bright yellow background. His wife, whom he depicted against a dark background, has a bouquet of flowers in her right hand and her left hand placed on her husband’s shoulder. Perhaps this means that they will stay together in good and bad times.
Beckmann endured an insecure life of 10 years in exile before he regained fame in the U.S. in 1947. The Germans had attempted to draft him into the army, although he had suffered a heart attack at the age of 60. It must have been unimaginable insecurity and agony for him, if it weren’t for his wife who stayed with him during the most difficult and darkest years.