Carnival: The Artist and His Wife

Oil on canvas
63 x 41 in.
Kunstmuseum der Stadt, Dusseldorf

From Reinhold Spieler, "Max Beckmann: The Path to Myth"

"Out of the darkness of a (circus) tent or stage, the two have emerged into the light. They are wearing fancy dress; Beckmann appears as melancholy harlequin, like the Gilles of Watteau, Quappi [his future wife] as Napoleon with horse and tricorn hat.

"These disguises are eloquent in themselves, for the mask serves to unmask reality: 'Big Max', as he sometimes called himself in his letters, ironically but with an edge of seriousness...has been cut down to size. He stands with drooping shoulders, awkward, almost clumsy. He is not playing the clown, he really is a mournful Gilles. His gaze is not fixed on anything real but has something of the visionary inner 'sight' of a blind man who knows the way, or rather the goal, and is waiting to be led there. His pale face, loosely held arms and not least the scarf wrapped round his head like a bandage, give him the air of someone convalescing from an illness, taking his first hesitant steps and needing help to do so. Willingly and full of trust he lets himself be led - by Quappi, who, as Napoleon, holds the reins in her hand and whose firm step identifies her as the active one. The inner harmony between the two is expressed in the analogous way both hold their hands, whereby her left hand and his right hand also form a mirror image of one another. It is disturbing that they do not touch. Although Beckmann's arm, like a blind man's, is there to be taken, she does not take it; so his arm is left just holding the cigarette in a strangely cumbersome and forlorn manner."