Mark Harden's Artchive Beckmann, Max
Self-Portrait with Saxophone
1930
Oil on canvas
55 1/8 x 27 3/8 in.
Kunsthalle, Bremen

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Stephan Lackner writes:

"Max Beckmann has probably made more self-portraits than any other major artist since Rembrandt. It was certainly not vanity that suggested this subject matter to him. Even to the casual observer, his face betrayed a powerful complex, and quite extraordinary personality; and a painter is justified in selecting any interesting motif which pleases him. He chose to paint his own person in order to study a wide range of human emotions.

"His biography-or his fate-can be deciphered from his features as they changed through the years. We can sense that the Self-Portrait with Saxophone was painted in Paris. The colors are tastefully mixed and almost charming. But the decisive, firm, very masculine design is typically Germanic. Here is a German painter visiting the French capital that he loves. Beckmann and his wife Quappi wintered in Paris from 1929 to 1932; the influence of the School of Paris and of the gentle French atmosphere dissolved some of the harshness of the artist's earlier Nordic style.

"In spite of its creamy, velvety tones, this painting gives an impression of great strength. Face, hands, and horn are modeled with sharp contrasts of shadow and light. The musical instrument is not literally a saxophone. It resembles a sensuous dragon that must be subdued; it is a creature with a life of its own. A refreshing vitality emanates from the bold, self-confident figure.

"Beckmann may have selected the saxophone as his attribute in order to appear up-to-date, a modern man. The saxophone was a frivolous newcomer to the orchestra in the twenties, a kind of exotic clown; it symbolized the break with musical tradition effected by American jazz. Beckmann was fond of this kind of spicy entertainment. He wanted to be "a child of his time," and he accomplished this in the self-portrait of 1930. Yet this sober, thoroughly contemporary figure has a mythical aura. Hidden under the civilized appearance is a dragon-killer."