Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Max Beckmann - A Vision

I am seeking for the bridge which leans from the visible to the invisible through reality. (Max Beckmann)

 Max Beckmann, Galleria Umberto, 1925

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. However, this scene was painted by Beckmann twenty years before Mussolini's death! Erhard Göpel, an art critic who often visited Beckmann in his exile 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."

Benito Mussolini (2nd from left) and his lover Clara Petacci (3rd from left) exposed in Milan on April 29th, 1945.

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 Giacomo Matteotti was widely interpreted as a storm signal just then, and Beckmann saw that gay vacationland Italy' symbolized by the mandolin, the bather, and the tootling blonde, was swamped by political repression. An Italian flag is drowning in the foreground.

Ludwig Meidner, Apocalyptic Landscape, 1912

Locksley Hall
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1835)

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain'd a ghastly dew
From the nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue;

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 (see above). And Beckmann pictured the Frankfurt synagogue in 1919 with its walls slanting as if they might topple at any moment:

 Max Beckmann, Die Synagoge in Frankfurt am Main, 1919

You can see more of Max Beckmann's works here on my Flickr page.

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