The King is a self-portrait painted by renowned German artist Max Beckmann during the politically unstable years preceding the Second World War. Completed between 1934-37, this artwork features the artist and his wife in what appears to be a luxurious living room setting with an ominous dark figure looming in the background. The painting is currently part of Tate Modern’s retrospective exhibition of Beckmann’s works.
Throughout his career, Beckmann rejected both Expressionism as well as any categorization of his work or himself within art movements. Although he was classified as an Expressionist, he spent most of his life creating art that explored themes such as terror, uncertainty and violence through juxtapositions in a restrained yet open way. These were all apparent in The King which depicted life just before Germany descended into war.
The King serves as both an homage to traditional portraiture and a rebellion against it at the same time. It captured the essence of Continental Europe on the brink of conflict with subtlety that can last for decades while still capturing emotion flawlessly like we are witnessing it live even right now.