“Art as a beacon of light in dark times – all of a sudden this Beckmann work, almost 80 years old, is highly topical again. It is great to see that Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen continues to seize opportunities to invest in its collection even in these times. The members of the Vereniging Rembrandt are there to help the museum in this regard, because the permanent collection endures and will be on show again, in the near future and for long thereafter!”
Fusien Bijl de Vroe, Director of Vereniging Rembrandt.
The oil painting 'Apollo' by the German Expressionist artist Max Beckmann has found a home in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen collection, thanks in part to Vereniging Rembrandt. The work was partially acquired from and partially donated by the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust, which has previously gifted 20 works to the museum.
'Apollo' (1942) is the second painting by Max Beckmann (1884–1950) in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen collection, together with 28 of his drawings, the 'Day and Dream' portfolio of prints dating from 1946, and seven other graphic works. Thanks in part to Vereniging Rembrandt, or the Rembrandt Association, from the autumn of 2021 this oil painting will be on show to the public in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen’s acquisitions display case, while after the museum’s reopening it will assume its place in the presentation of the permanent collection. The antitheses in the work – painted in Amsterdam during the Second World War – represent the reason that must conquer madness. 'Apollo' possesses the distinctive symbolic overtones that are also evident in Beckmann’s famous triptychs and is an enigmatic, oppressive painting which reveals how the artist reflected upon the world around him.
“Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is proud of the art-historical detective work that formed the groundwork for the discovery of this enigmatic painting from Beckmann’s time in the Netherlands and is profoundly grateful to Vereniging Rembrandt and Stichting MBVB, the museum’s friends association since 1939, for the financial support for this acquisition.”
Sjarel Ex, Director of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.
In the 1920s the German Expressionist artist Max Beckmann enjoyed great respect as an artist and as a professor at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. With the rise of National Socialism and the distrust of modern art his work was pronounced entartet – ‘degenerate’ – and more than 600 of his paintings were seized from German museums. Beckmann lost his job in 1933, was no longer allowed to exhibit and initially moved to Berlin. When his works of art were included in the notorious Entartete Kunst exhibition of 1937, Beckmann fled Germany and stranded in the Netherlands, where he lived in exile from 1937 to 1947. He then emigrated to the United States of America, where he taught at the University Art School in Saint Louis and from 1949 in New York. He died suddenly from a heart attack in 1950 and thereafter his second wife administered his estate.
Beckmann worked on 'Apollo' in late 1941 to early 1942. In the painting we see Apollo – the sun god as well as god of the arts – riding astride a winged beast that is reminiscent of a lion or leopard, rather than in the usual iconographic pose on a horse-drawn chariot. The torchlight illuminates the cavern, with glimpses into the subterranean passageways on either side. Huge bottles of champagne stand to left and right in the foreground. It is apposite that during the Second World War Beckmann should use the caverns of Valkenburg as a dark place where Apollo brings light, as it was the place where people sought refuge during this war, a hiding place also used in centuries past. Beckmann provided no clarification of this work, except for his explanation as recorded in the catalogue raisonné of his oeuvre. In 1938 he had written that there was little point in showing his work to people who lack the sensitivity to understand it for themselves.
The lion’s share of Beckmann’s oeuvre remained in Germany or went with him to the USA. Important works ended up in the collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum, which has the largest collection of work by Beckmann in the USA. The imposing 1944 portrait of Lütjens with his wife and their daughter Annemarie was acquired by Boijmans more than a decade ago, likewise purchased from the artist’s descendants with the support of Vereniging Rembrandt.
In 2017 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen came into contact with the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust, which administers the estate of Von Motesiczky, a Jewish artist from an affluent Viennese family. After Germany’s Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in 1938 she fled to England via Amsterdam with her mother. In Germany Marie-Louise had taken lessons with Beckmann and had introduced him to his second wife. In 2017 the trust donated 20 of Von Motesiczky’s works – 11 paintings and 9 drawings – to the museum. One reason for this was that she too had ties with the Netherlands, but the museum’s collection also includes works by Beckmann and Kokoschka, both of whom she had known and been influenced by. Von Motesiczky and Beckmann remained in regular contact during the war. She sent him money for painter’s requisites and served as a mediator in the sale of his paintings. It has also been suggested that she served as the model for the reclining figure in 'Apollo'. Beckmann’s widow bequeathed the painting to Von Motesiczky, who has now passed it on to Boijmans.
Apollo at Boijmans
The wealth of symbolism and powerful visual idiom of 'Apollo' mean that it is not just an important reinforcement for the Expressionist collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen; the work also presents new opportunities to highlight and elucidate the intersectionality between various sub-collections. The work’s powerfully mystic and dreamy character means there are also overlaps with Surrealism, a movement of which the museum boasts an exceptionally strong collection.
The museum is currently closed for renovation, but Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is set to open its doors to the public as the world’s first publicly accessible art depot in the autumn of 2021. One of the 13 large glass showcases suspended in the atrium of the mirrored building will be devoted to new acquisitions, 'Apollo' included. The acquisition will also be shown in highlight presentations in the depot and at a later date in the renovated museum.