Max Beckmann Self-Portrait Sells for $20.7M at German Auction

Max Beckmann Self-Portrait, Painted During World War Ii Sold for 20 Million Euros ($20.7 Million) In Berlin, on Thursday.

Dec 2, 2022By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Max Beckmann self-portrait
Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images


Max Beckmann‘s self-portrait hit the record price for an art auction in Germany. Beckmann painted work in Amsterdam after fleeing Nazi Germany. It depicts him as a younger man with a mysterious smile. Also, the name of Beckmann’s self-portrait buyer remains unknown.


Max Beckmann’s Self-Portrait Set a New Record for German Auction House

Max Beckmann self-portrait
Photo by Tobias Schwarz / AFP via Getty Images


Griesbach auction house in the German capital conducted the sale. The crowd was anticipating the second transaction of an enigmatic self-portrait by Max Beckmann, since its creation. At the end, the self-portrait achieved a significant German auction record.


Beckmann’s self-portrait’s name is “Self-Portrait Yellow-Pink”. Bidding started at 13 million euros (about $13.7 million). Taking into account additional costs, the buyer will have to shell out 23.2 million euros (about $ 24.4 million). Also, international bidders came to the Villa Grisebach auction house to purchase the items.


Director of the auction house Micaela Kapitzky claimed it was a rare chance to purchase a Beckmann self-portrait. “A work by him of this kind and quality will not come up again. This is very special”, she said. The Beckmann work went to a private Swiss buyer. He acquired the painting over the phone, via one of Grisebach’s partners. The auctioneer, Markus Krause, told potential buyers “this chance will never come again”.


Beckmann’s Portraits Became Essential to His Survival

Max Beckman
Photograph: Michael Sohn/AP

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Beckmann finished the painting in 1944, when he was in his fifties. His wife Mathilde, often known as Quappi, kept the picture till her passing. Also, it was last put on the market. Prior to the auction, thousands of people flocked to see the piece, first in November in New York when it was on display. Then, at the 19th-century Villa Grisebach, in the centre of West Berlin.


Villa Grisebach is built in 1986, when the Berlin Wall still separated the city. At the period, Munich and Cologne were the primary locations for high-end German art dealing. Also, there were auction houses in London or New York. At a time when he frequently felt stuck and without control over his life, the yellow cloth and the fur trim indicate sovereignty over his own self.


When Amsterdam was invaded by German troops in 1940, it was no longer a safe haven, and he withdrew into his studio. At that time, his portraits became essential to his survival. Or, as the art critic Eugen Blume said, “emblematic expressions of the spiritual crisis he endured”.




“Beckmann had to watch helplessly as the German occupiers interned Dutch Jews, among them personal friends of his, at the Westerbork concentration camp”, said Blume. “Withdrawing into his atelier…became a self-imposed obligation that protected him from breaking down”, Blume added.


Beckmann wrote in his diary: “Silent death and conflagration all around me, and yet I still live”. According to Kapitzky, Beckmann “gifted several of his self-portraits to Quappi, then variously took them away from her to give to friends, or to sell. But this one she clung on to and never let go up until her death in 1986”.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.