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Sinking of the Titanic

Max Beckmann, German, 1884–1950
Oil on canvas
Place made
Berlin, Germany, Europe
Current Location
On View, Gallery 216
104 1/4 x 130 in. (264.8 x 330.2 cm)
framed: 109 11/16 x 135 7/16 x 4 7/16 in. (278.6 x 344 x 11.3 cm)
Credit Line
Bequest of Morton D. May
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Object Number
On April 15, 1912, the world’s largest luxury liner, Titanic, sank off the coast of Newfoundland; of the 2,200 passengers, 1,507 died. Beckmann was inspired by news accounts to produce this enormous canvas in which he focused on the lifeboats of the Titanic while placing the distant, brightly lit liner against an iron-red night sky. Beckmann sought to emulate a 19th-century French tradition of grand paintings of contemporary events. Here, his theme is the struggle for survival; boats list dangerously or have overturned. The largest lifeboat is crammed with women and children including one passenger still in her violet evening gown and earrings. Beckmann employs a palette of vibrant green and blue coloring to highlight the nightmarish quality of a scene in which ghostly heads can clearly be seen floating in the water
Max Beckmann (1884-1950), Hermsdorf, Berlin, Germany [1]

Minna Beckmann-Tube (1881-1964), Hermsdorf, Berlin, Germany; Gauting (near Munich), Germany, acquired from the artist

- 1956
Peter Beckmann (1908-1990), Gauting (near Munich), Germany, acquired from Minna Beckmann-Tube [2]

1956 - 1983
Morton D. May (1914-1983), St. Louis, MO, USA, purchased from Peter Beckmann [3]

1983 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, bequest of Morton D. May [4]

[1] Max Beckmann kept lists of most of his paintings. This painting is on Beckmann's Hermsdorf list as number 1912:127 [Göpel, Erhard and Barbara Göpel. "Max Beckmann: Katalog der Gemälde." Bern: Kornfeld & Cie., 1976, cat. no. 159].

[2] Peter Beckmann was the son of Max Beckmann and Minna Beckmann-Tube.

[3] According to correspondence between Peter Beckmann and Morton D. May, Peter Beckmann sold this painting to Morton D. May in May 1956, along with another painting now in the Museum's collection, "Scene from the Destruction of Messina" (837:1983) [May Archives, Saint Louis Art Museum].

[4] Last Will and Testament of M. D. May dated June 11, 1982 [copy, May Archives, Saint Louis Art Museum]. Minutes of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee of the Board of Trustees, Saint Louis Art Museum, September 20, 1983.
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