Dancing Bar in Baden-Baden
Oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 25 5/8 in.
Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen, Munich
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Stephan Lackner writes:
"The rhythm and sparkle of this picture are reminiscent of a Stravinsky tango. There is sarcasm, but also fun and fascination. Sharp dissonances are held together by an exhilarating "beat. "
"The colors are iridescent like an oil film on a puddle, subtly indicating Beckmann's social criticism of the "upper crust." Changeable hues form an almost poisonous harmony evocative of the life-style of those years. The paillettes on the women's dresses are typical of the early twenties, as are the flawlessly white shirts that give their shady escorts the appearance of high respectability. The people depicted here are the profiteers riding the crest of the economic upheaval in Germany. Something is rotten in this state, but the painter's impartial eye sees beauty even in decomposition. The soap bubble of a phony boom can be beautifully tinted before it bursts.
"In his drypoints and lithographs Beckmann criticized the nouveaux riches more savagely; painting in oil made him diverge from the harsh black-and-white simplification. The people who gathered in a hotel bar in Baden-Baden in 1923 impressed Beckmann with their haughty elegance, although he looked through their smooth facades and saw the cold brutality at their cores. He saw them as caricatures, certainly, but there is an admixture of admiration, too. He liked grand style wherever he found it.
"Social criticism was practically a required course for an honest artist during those postwar years. George Grosz, Otto Dix, and other painters of the New Objectivity were, for a while, Beckmann's comrades-in-arms in the unpleasant but necessary activity of muckraking. Beckmann never quite managed the vitriolic treatment that Grosz dished out to the "Face of the Ruling Class." To Beckmann, the arrogant and ruthless bankers, politicians, officers, and robber barons always remained human. He even chose to paint them dancing, which was probably the most harmless of all their activities. And he gave them strongly individuated personalities.
"The composition is beautifully organized. The ripple of the dance movement is indicated by the visual rhythm of the parallel arms, indicating the direction of the dancing couples. Seven hands point diagonally to the lower right. This strict pictorial vector, which makes the dancers swirl before our eyes, is counteracted by one hand in the lower left corner, and another in the upper right pointing upward at a right angle to the general motion. In this way the dynamic scheme becomes balanced.
"There are so many figures in the limited space that the dance floor and the back wall are hardly visible. This crowd clings together, but not from mutual sympathy. Paradoxically, these men and women are unified by their utter egotism. They know exactly what they want to squeeze out of each other-the men want sex, the women money-but they enjoy the squeeze."