Schlafende am Strand (Quappi at the Beach)


© Estate of Max Beckmann / SODRAC (2013)

MAX BECKMANN (1884 – 1950)
Schlafende am Strand (Quappi At The Beach)
Indistinctly signed Beckmann and dated 27 (upper right)
Oil on canvas
41 by 100.5cm; 16 1/8 by 39 1/2 in.
Painted in Frankfurt in 1927 and reworked in New York in 1950
Mathilde Beckmann, New York (the artist’s wife; estate of the artist)
Catherine Viviano, New York (acquired from the above in 1986; until 1992)
Galerie Pels-Leusden, Berlin
Private collection, acquired from the above in 1995

Mannheim, Städtische Kunsthalle, Max Beckmann, Das gesammelte Werk, Gemälde, Graphik, Handzeichnungen aus den Jahren 1905 bis 1927, 1928, no. 101
New York, Curt Valentin Gallery, n.d. (titled Quappi at the Beach)
Chicago, 1020 Art Center, Max Beckmann, 1955, no. 15 (titled Quappi at the Beach)
Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, Works by Max Beckmann, 1984-85, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Kampen, Galerie Pels-Leusden, Sommergäste, 1994, illustrated in colour on the catalogue cover
Hamburg, Das Bucerius Kunst Forum, Max Beckmann. Menschen am Meer, 2003-04, no. 35, illustrated in colour inthe catalogue

The artist’s handlist, 1927, listed as Schlafende am Strand
Benno Reifenberg & Wilhelm Hausenstein, Max Beckmann, Munich, 1949, no. 242 (the 1927 version)
Reinhard Piper, Nachmittag, Erinnerungen eines Verlegers, Munich, 1950, mentioned p. 45
Erhard & Barbara Göpel, Max Beckmann. Katalog der Gemälde, Bern, 1976, vol. I, no. 826, catalogued p. 503; vol. 2,no. 826, illustrated pl. 311

“I was 14 days in Italy on the Adriatic Sea coast, and I saw wonderful things there, which I would like to bring into being. I paint portraits, still lifes, landscapes, visions of cities that emerge from the ocean, beautiful women, and grotesque villains. People bathing and female nudes. In short: a life. A life that simply is. Without thoughts or ideas. Filled with colours and shapes from nature and from within myself. ‒ As beautiful as possible.‒ This will be the work of the next ten years.”1

Max Beckmann

When Max Beckmann wrote these words in August of 1924, he had just spent his first holiday on the Adriatic coast in Piran (formerly Italy, now Slovenia), accompanied by his first wife Minna and their young son Peter. But the artist’s euphoria was not only attributable to the beauty and radiance of the Mediterranean shores and the vitality of its people, the middle-aged Beckmann had also fallen in love with a young girl. On his way home from the Adriatic, Beckmann stopped over at a friend’s house in Vienna, where he encountered the 19-year-old Mathilde von Kaulbach, daughter of Munich society portraitist Friedrich August von Kaulbach, who studied voice in the Austrian capital. Beckmann affectionately nicknamed her ‘Quappi’, a corruption of her last name, suggesting ‘Kaulquappe’, the German word for ‘tadpole’. He swiftly divorced his wife and married Mathilde a year later.

Max Beckmann demanded undivided attention from his women. In the letter, in which he proposed marriage to Quappi, he wrote: “You will possess power over me through your weakness, never through your strength.”2 Although this statement has to be seen in the context of its time, it reveals Beckmann’s deep insecurities as a man. As he had urged his first wife Minna to give up her career as a painter – she became a celebrated opera-singer instead –, Beckmann now demanded from Quappi that she sacrificed her ambition of becoming a professional singer. She conceded and devoted the rest of her life to support her husband’s artistic career.

After their marriage in 1925, Beckmann and Quappi returned to Italy to spend their holidays for the next several years. The present oil painting was first conceived in Beckmann’s Frankfurt studio in 1927 from a pencil sketch he had made of Quappi on a beach in Rimini in early summer. In a letter, dated July 12, 1927, Beckmann wrote to Quappi: “Today I started working again on a sleeping bather, who is you.”3

Max Beckmann, Schlafende am Strand, 1927, pencil on paper, Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig, Estate of Mathilde Beckmann © DACS 2015.

The oil painting never left Beckmann’s possession throughout his life. In 1950, the year of his sudden death – he collapsed on the street at the corner of 69th Street and Central Park West in New York, while walking from his apartment to the Metropolitan Museum ‒ Beckmann reworked Schlafende am Strand, slightly simplifying its composition. The result is an arrestingly monumental image of a woman, clad in a dark bathing suit, lasciviously reclining on a white beach towel before a plain background of sand, sea and sky. Her body fills almost the entire canvas, lit by intense sunlight, creating sharp contrasts, and lending her shape a sculptural presence. A greenish black curtain on the left opens the view onto the sleeping woman’s light-skinned, voluptuous body, putting creator and viewer into the position of voyeurs.

After Max Beckmann’s passing, Schlafende am Strand stayed in the possession of his widow Quappi until her death in 1986. Catherine Viviano, the art dealer who handled the artist’s and Quappi’s estate, kept it until her death in 1992, after which the painting entered a renowned German collection, where it remained until 2016.

1. Max Beckmann in a letter to his art dealer Israel Ber Neumann on August 9, 1924, in: Max Beckmann. Briefe, ed. by Klaus Gallwitz, Uwe M. Schneede and Stephan von Wiese, in collaboration with Barbara Golz, Munich 1993, vol.1, no.264
2. Letter, dated July 3, 1925, ibid. vol. 1, no. 309
3. Letter, dated July 12, 1927, ibid., vol2, no. 431

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