Max Beckmann, a German artist born in Leipzig in 1884 and raised in an upper-middle-class family, painted “Der verlorene Sohn” (The Prodigal Son) in 1949 while he was exiled in the United States. The painting depicts a pivotal moment of uncertainty as described by the parable of The Prodigal Son by Jesus Christ. Beckmann’s interpretation is both emotional and complex.
Inspired by The Argonauts group of painters and poets during his time in Amsterdam, Beckmann’s painting portrays the son returning home to his father after leading a life full of sin and wastefulness. His father greets him with open arms, but his older brother looks on with contempt. Beckmann uses dark colors to convey the arduous journey made by the prodigal son back home.
“Der verlorene Sohn” is an excellent example of what makes Max Beckmann such an enigmatic painter – the ability to encompass deep emotion within a single work of art. Though painted many years after it’s believed that he last considered religion seriously or painted explicitly religious subjects, this painting reflects much about our struggle to return home to what we know is right.