Mark Harden's Artchive Beckmann, Max
Galleria Umberto
1925
Oil on canvas
44 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.
Collection R. N. Ketterer, Campione, Switzerland

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Stephan Lackner writes:

"Modern artists generally avoid anecdotal subjects. Occurrences that happened only once are shunned as thematic material. History, once the lifeblood of academic art, is not as popular with twentieth-century painters.

"We know that Mussolini was killed on April 28, 1945, by Italian partisans, and subsequently hung by his feet in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan. But do we wish such gruesome "great moments in history" to be immortalized? However, this scene was painted by Beckmann twenty years before Mussolini's death!

"Erhard Gopel, an art critic who often visited Beckmann in wartime Amsterdam, gives the following account: "When, in 1925, he promenaded through the Galleria Umberto in Naples, he saw the flood of fascism rising, he saw carabinieri saving drowning people and a body hung upside down by ropes. He saw this in broad daylight. When Mussolini's fall was reported, he fetched the painting from the closet and showed it in his studio. He considered it a vision even before he knew that he had also foreseen the manner of the dictator's end_hanging head down."

"Galleria Umberto contains many odd features, the strangest of which is the crystal ball hanging from the glass ceiling. Did Beckmann have clairvoyance in mind when he invented this translucent globe? Consciously, he probably wanted only to satirize the Italy of 1925. The fascists' murder of Matteotti was widely interpreted as a storm signal just then, and Beckmann feared that gay vacationland Italy' symbolized by the mandolin, the bather, and the tootling blonde, might be swamped by political repression. An Italian flag is drowning already in the foreground.

"Expressionist art offers several examples of this uncanny "second sight," the most literal being Ludwig Meidner's views of bombed and burning cities painted in 1913. Beckmann pictured the Frankfurt synagogue in 1919 with its walls slanting as if they might topple at any moment. But we need not really ascribe supernatural powers to artists. Fantasy, in itself already a miraculous faculty, suffices to explain many predictions, such as Tennyson's when he "Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,/Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales ;/ . . . and there rain'd a ghastly dew/From the nations' airy navies...." Tennyson, who died in 1892, did not see his prophecy come true. Beckmann did."