Mark Harden's Artchive Beckmann, Max
Black Irises
Oil on canvas
29 1/2 x 161/2 in.
Collection R. N. Ketterer, Campione, Switzerland

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Stephan Lackner writes:

"At first glance this seems a very simple still life: four flowers in a vase, two or three on the table as if waiting to be rearranged, some sheets of music, the round back of a chair, wallpaper, and a curtain: nothing much, really. And yet, what a wealth of extremely sensitive gradations within the few chosen colors!

"Green and black, both velvety and richly saturated, form the basic harmony. The crosses on the wallpaper appear, by contrast, more reddish than they actually are. These crosses lean to the right, the curtain rim is slanting to the left; each line is in correspondence with every other line. If the wallpaper motif is a reminiscence of Cezanne, the unified composition owes even more to the French master.

"Black irises: we feel Beckmann's wonder and astonishment that they really exist, that some botanist or gardener succeeded in breeding this almost unnatural phenomenon. The painter savors the black, from its gray shades up to the whitish reflection on the lighted side. Beckmann always insisted that black is a color, not the absence of all colors, and with the substantial black pigment in this painting he proved his point artistically, if not scientifically. Admittedly, then, black is a color when Beckmann uses it.

"This artist, relentlessly driven by the demons of his times and of his own temperament, relaxed when he painted flowers. Often his harshest figure compositions, his most unworldly triptychs, are brightened unexpectedly in some corner by a bouquet. Blossoms give him the most unproblematic painterly delight, and-a rarity with Beckmann-they speak for themselves only, without standing for a deeper philosophical idea. His "terrible furor of the senses" becomes tender and gentle when dealing with blooming plants.

"Beckmann loved the innocence and gratuitous sheen of flowers that ask nothing from us except to be loved."