Max Beckmann in California: Exile, Memory, and Renewal

Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)


When Max Beckmann confessed his vision about a future in America to Israel Ber Neumann in March 1939, he was in Paris on his last trip outside Amsterdam before war broke out in September of that year. The enforced isolation during his exile in Amsterdam only ended after 1945 with his first postwar journey to France in March–April 1947 and then, of course, more dramatically with the Beckmanns’ departure for the United States on August 29 of that year. Shortly before this departure, Beckmann had emphasized in a letter to Stephan Lackner his firm conviction that this “new transformation”—namely his moving to America—was part of “his life’s program,” his Lebensprogramm—as if he was to follow a predestined fate.1 Already in 1945, immediately after the end of the war, he had begun to study English, a language that he finally mastered more proficiently than he often made his audience believe. Beckmann had always wanted to emigrate to the United States, but it was only two years after World War II that he managed to obtain a visum. After a brief stay in New York, he arrived at the end of September 1947 in St. Louis to start his teaching job at Washington University. The discourse on Beckmann’s American years primarily focuses on St. Louis and New York. Little attention has been paid to his stay from June to August 1950 in California where the Beckmanns spent some vacation time in Carmel and where the artist taught summer school at Mills College (figure 1.1).


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© Sabine Eckmann and Lutz Koepnick 2007

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