Beckmann’s Lido (1924)

Beckmann's bathers by the sea (left) have more to do with bathing in art than life. For instance, the man wrapped in the towel looks over his shoulder and out of the picture. That's a pose mainly reserved in the Renaissance for the artist himself, thus suggesting he is looking in the mirror instead.1 Besides, his towel forms a turban and, as seen before, a turban of any type is a common sign for an "artist". The woman's cap resembles a turban too, just as her simplified features fuse androgynously with Beckmann's (below).

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Max Beckmann, Lido (1924) Oil on canvas. St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri, USA
Bottom L: Detail of above
Bottom R: Self-portrait detail, partly obscured for comparison, from Artists with Vegetables (1943) Oil on canvas. Washington University Gallery of Art, St Louis, Missouri

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Artists often wore turbans in their studios to keep paint off their hair. At left a variety of artists wear them. Van Eyck is at top left; Michelangelo twice in the center row. That the male bather is Beckmann's alter ego is further suggested by the towel veiling the lower part of his face. Any kind of veiling in poetic art is generally a metaphor for its hidden or veiled meaning.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Portraits of artists wearing turbans, including two of Michelangelo (center middle and right), Dürer (center left) and Van Eyck (top left); Detail of Beckmann's Lido (far right)

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Beckmann's Lido is, in my opinion, almost certainly based on Michelangelo's iconic Battle of Cascina (top). The latter represents, as argued before, figures by Michelangelo emerging in his mind 2 If you click on Cascina to enlarge it, you can see a bather wrapping his head in a turban (1) while the man next to him stares outwards (2). Beckmann combined both motifs in one figure. The disembodied hands in Cascina (read: Michelangelo showing his own) reappear in Beckmann's background (3). And the hands reaching down in The Battle are similarly placed in Lido (4). In both images, we are watching the artist's mental struggle to create.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Numbered diagrams of Beckmann's Lido (top) and a copy of Michelangelo's Battle of Cascina (bottom)

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Beckmann made a similar picture 15 years earlier without the struggle (top). The nude men, like Michelangelo's soldiers, are "figure studies" more than bathers. Picasso often used the beach as well for a similar purpose (bottom). Here the sea resembles an upright canvas while the woman swimming seems to stretch out her hand with a piece of charcoal in it (perhaps a shadow) to draw something on her watery canvas.3

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Beckmann, Young Men at the Sea (1905) Oil on canvas. Kunstsammlungen, Weimar
Bottom: Picasso, Women Bathing (1920) Pastel

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Sea and water often star in creation myths. And these figures, largely based on Michelangelo's, are created in Beckmann's mind through the eye-shaped water nearby4 We are behind his eye inside his head. That is why the white robe's electric hem forms Ms in red for both Max and Michelangelo. He channels Michelangelo's creation into new art through the magic of what I call visual metamorphosis.

Captions for image(s) above:

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More Works by Beckmann

Notes:

1. See Abrahams, "Over the Shoulder Poses" (Feb. 2011)

2. See Abrahams, "Michelangelo Rocks in The Battle of Cascina" (July 2013) on EPPH.

3. The two bathers in the foreground are "models" while the one combing abother's hair is an "artist" again, manipulating hair like an artist uses the hairs of a brush.

4. The two waves behind suggest female breasts pointing upwards, a symbol of fertility. However the way in which two breasts converge into one eye seems to represent how the duality of the natural world (eg. artist and model) fuses into unity in true reality (eg. the artist is the model and vice versa.)

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 18 May 2015. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.