Bunch of Grapes, Max Beckmann
Max Beckmann
Bunch of Grapes
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Max Beckmann

Bunch of Grapes, April 25, 1944

265 x 370 mm
Physical Description
Pen and black ink over pencil on laid paper
Inventory Number
Object Number
16806 Z
Can be presented in the study room of the Graphische Sammlung (special opening hours)


About the Work

When Beckmann created this pen-and-ink drawing of a 'Bunch of Grapes' in the spring of 1944, he had already been living in exile in Amsterdam for almost seven years. The dreamlike scene shows a tired old coachman, with a young woman at his side, transporting a huge bunch of grapes by horse and cart. Contrasting with this fantasy is an advertising column with poster images illustrating social life at the time.

The highlighted, almost shining grapes can be seen as a metaphor for the sixty-year-old artist's own existential issues. Although he was living in an unsafe location and tormented by convalescence, sleeplessness and the fear of an impending call-up for military service, Beckmann was nonetheless unwilling to leave Europe at that time. His 'Bunch of Grapes' recalls the Old Testament verses describing how spies went out into the Promised Land, where milk and honey flowed, and returned with an enormous cluster of grapes as proof of the region's fertility (Numbers 13). Another, earlier work by Beckmann in which crossing a bridge describes a seemingly contrary interpretation of people starting out for the day is his etching 'The Morning'. In the radiant light of the rising sun, three generations on an empty waggon have set off for a day's work over what in those days was the Wilhelmsbrücke in Frankfurt. In this later drawing, by contrast, the distance already travelled seems vague and it is uncertain where the journey will lead.

Like the watercolour 'Early Man - Primeval Landscape', the 'Bunch of Grapes' once belonged to the Munich-born art historian Jane Sabersky (1911-1983). She emigrated to the US in 1939, where she initially worked as an assistant to the art dealer Curt Valentin and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Immediately after Beckmann's arrival in the US she accompanied him to his first photo session in front of his triptych 'Departure'[1] and soon joined the German-speaking circle of close friends around Curt Valentin and Hanns Swarzenski. After Beckmann and his wife moved from Saint Louis to New York in 1949, they chatted "rather more about art", danced "also with Jane", celebrated New Year together and ate excellent "red cabbage and roast pork", and also translated "the speech to friends and the Faculty of Philosophy at Washington University in Saint Louis", which Beckmann gave when he accepted an honorary doctorate there in 1950.[2]

[1] Tagebücher, 12.9.1947.

[2] Tagebücher, 31.8.1949, 25.12.1949, 31.12.1949, 20.3.1950, 14.5.1950; Ansprache 1950, pp. 75-76.

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