Max Beckmann initially executed twenty-seven drawings in fulfilment of a commission by Georg Hartmann, the owner of the Bauersche Schriftgießerei Company in Frankfurt. These works were secretly brought to Frankfurt during the war and transferred to lithographic stone. Still bearing no text, the proofs were sent back to Amsterdam, where they were hand-coloured by the artist in watercolour. This »prototype« then made its way once again to Frankfurt. There it served as the model for the colour version of the further copies, which were carried out by various draughtsman from the Bauersche Gießerei; Max Beckmann himself also coloured five of them.
Georg Hartmann’s intent was to publish the Apocalypse as a private edition and present it to his closest friends and colleagues as a gift. Due to the fact that a permit was required from the propaganda ministry for editions of twenty-five or more, the numbered copies could officially not exceed twenty-four. However, further unnumbered copies were produced secretly, of which seven coloured and ten uncoloured ones are known to us today.
The illustration series encompasses seventeen full-page depictions as well as ten vignettes for pages bearing text. Various entries in Beckmann’s diaries, in which he refers to the Apocalypse in an affectionately impudent manner as »Apo« or »Glypse«, testify to his work on the drawings. The frequently recurring expression »déprime« reflects his struggle for form in an Amsterdam under the constant menace of air attacks. This state of affairs does not dominate the pictures, however; the artist’s focus lies instead on the fate of mankind and its redemption. There are no direct allusions to war in his Apocalypse. Rather, Beckmann repeatedly integrated elements of his personal symbolic language such as candles, fish, swords and, in a number of cases, self-portraits. The images thus also grant insight into his personal story as an exile threatened with persecution. The work on the Apocalypse becomes an act of salvation – on the one hand for the artist, on the other hand, through him as a proxy, for all mankind. Beckmann not only illustrated the text, but also produced – in pictures – a universally valid image of hope. In order to convey this ecumenical theme and touch the beholder to the core, no aggressive or overly explicit pictorial language was necessary. In view of the inferno of the raging war, the fact that the majority of the works impart a sense of inner peace is not only the most remarkable, but also the truly moving aspect of Beckmann’s art.
A catalogue will be published in conjunction with the exhibition: 120 pages, 50 colour illustrations, texts in German, available in the museum shop for € 19.90 / preferential price for Galerieverein members: € 15.90.
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