Still Life with Yellow Boots

Still Life with Yellow Boots (Stilleben mit gelben Stiefeln), 1912 Oil on canvas. Relined. 79 × 69 cm (31 ⅛ × 27 ⅛ in.) Dedicated and dated lower right: HBSL [i.e. Herr Beckmann seiner Liebsten] 12. Göpel 162. [3347]
Minna Beckmann-Tube, the artits’s wife, Berlin–Gauting,Germany Dr. Peter Beckmann, the artist’s son, Ohlstadt, Germany Kunstkabinett Hanna Bekker vom Rath, Frankfurt a.M., Germany (1956, on commission) Korell collection, Germany, acquired 1956 Private collection, Hesse, Germany, by gift or inheritance from Korell collection
Max Beckmann. Werke der Frühzeit. Munich, Günther Franke, 1952, (brochure) no. 22 Max Beckmann, 1884–1950. Memorial exhibition. Würzburg, Städtische Galerie, Falkenhaus (graphics), and the Freunde mainfränkischer Kunst, Otto Richter Halle (paintings), 1956, cat. no. 9 Max Beckmann 1884–1950. Wuppertal, Kunst- und Museumsverein im Städtischen Museum, 1956, cat. no. 10 Max Beckmann. Die frühen Bilder. Bielefeld, Kunsthalle, and Frankfurt a.M., Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut, 1982/83, cat. no. 65, full-page colour ill. 66 on p. 115 Max Beckmann. Die Stilleben. Hamburg, Kunsthalle, 2014/15, full-page colour ill. p. 84

“I thought of you, and thought that I loved you. That I will always love you, whatever happens in my life, wherever it takes me. Above everything else, my love for you will always exist. Even if you won’t be mine anymore or I won’t be yours.

If you like it or not, if you hated me or loved me, or if you’d become indifferent, you would always stay a part of my soul, and as such will always be cooperating and experiencing with me. Over time and space, you friend of my soul, you are mine.”

Max Beckmann in a letter to Minna
Beckmann-Tube, Wangerooge, 28 August 1910

Throughout his life Max Beckmann maintained a strong bond with his first wife Minna-Beckmann-Tube. Even after their separation in 1925, when Beckmann divorced Minna and married the younger Mathilde Kaulbach (Quappi), the couple sustained a lively correspondence and intimate friendship that never lost its sexual facet until the artist’s death in 1950.

The first meeting of Max and Minna was reportedly a coup de foudre event. In February 1903 both attended a masquerade ball during carnival season in Weimar, where both studied art at the Grossherzoglich-Sächsische Kunstschule. Minna dressed as a fortune teller in a ‘Hungarian’ inspired costume and read Max’s palm. 2

“So this was love at first sight […] By daytime I almost liked him better. He had terrifically bad manners and was the first person, whom I ever knew, who was completely uninhibited, free and unconventional […]” 3

The couple became engaged in 1905 and married a year later. In 1908 their son Peter was born. Minna, who was an accomplished painter herself, but upon Max’s request changed profession and managed to become an internationally renowned opera singer, makes frequent appearances in Beckmann’s early oeuvre – as lover, wife and mother, as well as the embodiment of mystical femininity.

Between 1905 and 1913 most of Beckmann’s paintings are signed HBSL “Herr Beckmann seiner Liebsten” (= Mr. Beckmann to his most beloved) or MBSL “Max Beckmann seiner Liebsten”, and so is Still-life with Yellow Boots.

Painted in 1912, the work shows a pair of dainty, sharply pointed, canary-yellow boots, adorned with dark blue tassels, a red fez cap with turquoise trimmings, a black-and-white striped sash, as well as a green armband, decorated with shimmering golden bells. The objects are arranged on a pinkish-brown tabletop and dramatically lit from the side, casting deep shadows. The suggestion of a curtain on the left makes them appear as being on stage. The arrangement apparently represents a costume for a bal masqué, suggesting a night of fun, role-play, romance and passion ‒ the costume is taken off.

Still-life with Yellow Boots likely commemorates the very night of the couple’s first encounter. It is a tender declaration of love from Max Beckmann to his wife, recalling a blissful and significant moment in both of their lives.

In 1942, almost 40 years after their first meeting, Minna, whose love and admiration for Max always included his art, wrote to Max:

“Yes, I live in your things, and that is a good, exciting [and] interesting life.” 4

1 Wieg, Cornelia, Max Beckmann seiner Liebsten, Ein Doppelportrait, Halle 2005, p.9

2 Beckmann-Tube, Minna. “Erinnerungen an Max Beckmann” in: Beckmann, Frühe Tagebücher, p. 163

3 ibid.

4 ibid. Minna’s letter to Max Beckmann, dated 11 Sept. 1942