Dhis picture could catapult the Grisebach auction house and the German market into previously unattainable regions: On December 1st, a painting by Max Beckmann will be auctioned in Berlin – estimated at 20 to 30 million euros. This makes the 1943 “Self-Portrait Yellow-Rose” the highest-priced work of art in local trade to date and could well become the most expensive work ever sold in Germany.
The record so far is 9.5 million euros, achieved last year at Nagel in Stuttgart by the fire-gilded bronze of a deity that the Chinese Emperor Chenghua had received from a concubine in 1473. The sculpture pushed a work by the artist from the top spot, which is now pushing back up. Beckmann’s “The Egyptian” from 1942 was brokered by Grisebach in 2018 for 4.7 million euros. The fifth most expensive work of art in German auctions in 2021 was also a Beckmann: “Bathers with a green cabin and boatmen with red trousers” from 1934 secured – again from Grisebach – the Kunstmuseum Den Haag for 1.9 million euros.
In contrast, the prize envisaged for the “Self-Portrait Yellow-Pink” is at an international level. Important works from the Dutch years of exile by the German Expressionist, who was outlawed by the National Socialists, have long since achieved this: In Ronald Lauder’s museum “Die Galerie” hangs the “Self-Portrait with Horn” from 1938, bought by the art dealer Richard Feigen in 2001 at Sotheby’s in New York for 22 .5 million dollars as the most expensive German painting of all time. From Feigen’s own collection came Beckmann’s 1937-38 dystopian painting, Birds in Hell, which fetched a record £32m at Christie’s in London five years ago. The American mega retailer Larry Gagosian landed it at the time. So it is not surprising that Grisebach is not only exhibiting the “Self-portrait yellow-pink” in Berlin-Charlottenburg (from November 23rd to 30th), but also in New York (from November 5th to 10th).
There, interested parties from overseas can take a look at the painting, which the artist gave to his wife Mathilde, known as “Quappi”, while he was still in Amsterdam and which subsequently remained in a private Swiss collection. Beckmann, who has repeatedly explored his self through painting, stages himself in the darkest of times with unusual light. Facing the viewer frontally in front of a light background in half-length, he holds his arms outstretched flat in front of his body. Modeled by soft shadows, his bald head protrudes from the V-neckline of a yellow coat, perhaps a dressing gown, with a white cloth, fur, or collar around his neck. The gaze diverges into an indefinite distance. A round mirror on the left reflects only darkness.
Beckmann, who worked with great difficulty in Amsterdam and narrowly escaped conscription, painted himself as a king, bar-goer and fortune-teller, clown, male nurse and artist. In “Self-Portrait Yellow-Rose” he pauses, almost monastic, almost meditative, but with his eyes open. His right hand could hold a brush, but remains empty. What is captured is a moment of calm in the storm: that, too, is an act of self-assertion, a sign of inner freedom.