Mark Harden's Artchive Beckmann, Max
Man and Woman
1932
Oil on canvas
68 x 48 in.
Collection Dr. and Mrs. Stephan Lackner, Santa Barbara, California

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Stephan Lackner writes:

"Man and Woman of 1932 has a mural-like quality, with the grittiness and chalky lucidity of a cinquecento fresco. The title, the barest formula, can mean Adam and Eve, but there are overtones of a weary Odysseus turning away from the nymph Calypso and her surfeit of honey and bloom. The man has abandoned the self-absorbed female; he has overstepped the horizon, and looms like a distant giant in the pale blue sky.

"This sky, of an extraordinarily luminous shimmer, conveys a "wild surmise" of very early times, of a prehistoric dawn. And yet, for the man time is growing late; he is looking toward distant purposes; his muscular torso is quietly poised for more interesting and far-reaching deeds. He has the eternal longing of the wanderer. The tree behind the man has already shed its seeds; stem and empty pods are dried out; the sap of life has vanished from his side of the picture. The woman, curled contentedly around a flower in a feline attitude, still considers her little paradise as self-sufficient. Her tree is succulent, rank with buds and blossoms, almost lasciviously fleshy.

"There are biblical reminiscences here of the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Sexual connotations, perceiving some vegetative forms as lingam and yoni, have also been discussed. The symbolism is reticent, almost secretive; however, we feel a strong mythical undercurrent, the vibrating tension of human culture in statu nascendi.

"The colors exert an almost hypnotic charm on the retina. The painting gives us the feeling that we have a vast, free future before us, that we are looking into the clear, cool dawn of history.

"Figurative art knows two entirely different kinds of nudity: we might call them positive and negative nudity. Negative nakedness means deprivation, misery, freezing, or hellfire. Positive nakedness means enjoyment of freedom, which can run the gamut from radiant innocence to explicit sexuality. Beckmann, in his graphics and oils from 1916 on, had mostly shown negative nakedness, as a corollary of deprivation and pain. But the 1932 Man and Woman proclaims, almost with programmatic intensity, the positive aspects of the nude human body. It presages a new period in Beckmann's work, a style which also comprises the most vital elements of classicism. With this painting Beckmann attained artistic universality.

"In 1918 he had evolved the geometrical, sharply defined style of "the cylinder, the sphere, the cone," following Cezanne's precept; in 1932 he developed a liberated, loose, intense style, which was his own version of Expressionism. The geometrical fretwork was dissolved, allowing the works of the thirties to revel in spontaneity. Beckmann became the master of the living, excited, and exciting brushstroke. He continued to work for weeks and months on a painting, sometimes with long intermissions. But even in the most careful execution he rarely overpainted his first conception-as he had been apt to do in the early twenties-and therefore his new classical figures never seem dulled by academic tradition. He knew when and where to stop in order to let his pigments breathe, so that his characters always retain a dash of temperament. This man and woman are individuals, no doubt, with very personal characteristics, yet, at the same time, they are symbols of the male and female principles."