Max Beckmann: a German in Paris

[29 Sep 2002]


Paris’s Musée National d’Art Moderne currently has a retrospective show on Max BECKMANN, a German expressionist and lover of Paris. At auction houses, he is more renowned as the holder of the record price for a German painting.

From landscapes capturing the implacable horror of the trenches to the strange still life of the New Objectivity, or self-portraits in triptychs that explore his contemporary world through allegory, the frequently tragic works of Max BECKMANN broke through pictorial convention to achieve a higher level of expressiveness.

Since 1999, his price level has doubled and collectors rush to buy any of his works that come onto the market. Beckmann’s bought-in ratio was less than 6% last year. In 2001 the market put the seal on his reputation, throwing fistfuls of dollars at Selbstbildnis mit Horn (1938), and setting an all-time record for a German painting at USD 20.5 million.


Paintings make up only 5% of the Beckmann lots sold, but they account for most of the artist’s auction turnover. Generally, they sell for between USD 100,000 and USD 1 million mainly in London or New York. His drawings have risen in tandem, with the price of some near doubling in less than a year. A Nu masculin, sold for EUR 3,800 in December 1998, was resold the following May for EUR 6,900 at Hamburg’s Dörling auction house. His prints have also felt the effect of Beckmann’s ascendancy, but still remain relatively cheap. Over the last 10 years, 88% of the Max BECKMANN pieces coming up for auction have been prints. They represent a way in for less wealthy collectors. And they are still coming up for sale frequently on the German market. Prices are highest for specific subjects: self-portraits and female figures.

A very rare portfolio of 11 prints, numbered 1/75, from the Die Hölle series will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s London on 9 October 2002. The day before, Beckmann lovers can also find a sketch for one of the lithographs in the series at the same auction house, as the Beck collection is broken up.