Mark Harden's Artchive Beckmann, Max
Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket
1950
Oil on canvas
55 1/8 x 36 in.
St. Louis Art Museum

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Stephan Lackner writes:

"The masked ball is over; the mythological crown has been discarded. Even the tuxedo seems too fancy now. The actor has taken off his last disguise and stands before us as a human being.

"There are no artifices, no frills; the far-reaching associations that were conjured up by the costumes and props of earlier self-portraits are gone. The design is as simple and straightforward as possible. The strangely crude, luminous blue of the jacket extends, unchanging, to the contours. It clashes with the bright red shirt, the green chair, and the purple wall. Here we find no softening of contrasts, no "taste" in the Parisian sense, no pastel shades like those the artist employed about 1930, and no Expressionist angularity and distortion. Beckmann proves that he "can do without"; he stands alone in the transparent dusk, not of old age, but of the maturest phase of middle age. He had no presentiment that this would be his last self-portrait, but it looks like a quiet summation of what went before.

"With tie and fashionable lapels Beckmann accommodates himself to his human surroundings. The cigarette is still there, a small indulgence which he knew was bad for his heart, but what would life be without the tiniest vice? The background is stripped to bare essentials: only the rim of a canvas, on which he has painted a purplish ground, is visible_the painter's last attribute. The stretcher, with its nails, and the chair are standing straight. This uprightness is a characteristic of Beckmann's "American period."

"Twelve years earlier, in Self-Portrait with Horn, he had deemed it necessary to add a slanting edge, and in his pictures of the twenties, perpendicular and horizontal lines were almost taboo. Often he added a sloping ledge, a sharply inclined frame or windowsill, just to break up any suggestion of a rectangular grid. These crooked frames of reference seemed to say: You, the spectator, have lost your equilibrium; it is up to you out there to restore the balance of the world.

"The earlier paintings deformed each right angle of a building, shunning any comfortable, conservative organization, tilting all things to fit the typical, non-Euclidean Beckmann space. The last pictures have no such prohibitions. They include the right angle as well as any other.

"Beckmann must have felt that a return to normalcy was possible in this country. America had a stabilizing influence on his art; self-confidence came back to the refugee. The warm acceptance accorded him by the people of his new homeland calmed his political forebodings and his cosmic fears.

"If the old scowl still lingers around the eyebrows, it is because Beckmann remained Beckmann. His penetrating eyes still see the incredible magic of life, but for the moment, for the duration of creating this self-portrait, he has renounced his conjurer's power. These are the eyes of an elderly Prospero who wants nothing more than a little peace."