Art and Devastation: A Tour of German Post-War Expressionism #4

Max Beckmann, Here Is Intellect, 1921. Drypoint. MoMA.

Peter Gay calls Beckmann “a philosopher with a paintbrush.” His service during World War I as an orderly led him to an emotional breakdown. In 1938, he commented that his art was a search for self.

Here is Intellect is a circular composition that we follow through raised champagne flutes and pointing fingers. In this formal dinner party, a drunk, dissipated old man is the center of attention. Cigarette dangling from his mouth, the man points to his forehead with his index finger. Is he saying, “Here is intellect,” or is he making a suicide gesture? A sardonic younger man with sleek hair and bared teeth, wearing white tie, points to the old man’s heart. A coquettish young woman toasts the old man, smiling and seeming to wave. Another old man in the foreground, his back turned to the viewer, joins the toast. This man seems not to fit, with his stubble and his loud check jacket. The first old man’s right hand is palm-up under the table.

Art could capture cynicism. Could art cure it?