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Acrobat on the Trapeze

Max Beckmann, German, 1884–1950
Oil on canvas
Made in
Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands, Europe
Current Location
On View, Gallery 216
57 3/8 x 35 7/8 in. (145.7 x 91.1 cm)
Credit Line
Bequest of Morton D. May
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Object Number
Beckmann's diaries from Amsterdam recount his numerous visits to cabarets, theaters, and the circus. In this painting, an acrobat in the lofty heights of a circus tent is shown from an improbably close viewpoint. The acrobat crouches on a trapeze and seems to be waiting for the right moment to propel himself back for his next routine. Behind the sturdy figure, which nearly fills the canvas, a second trapeze artist appears in the upper right corner while an audience, suggested by dotted brushwork, fills the middle band of the painting. Beckmann's use of bold black outlines and saturated planes of canary yellow and lush turquoise heighten the scene's energy. To Beckmann, the acrobat's courageous performance evoked the challenges met by every human: "We are all tightrope walkers," he said. "We have the desire to achieve balance and to keep it."
Max Beckmann (1884-1950), Amsterdam, The Netherlands [1]

- 1946
Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York, NY, USA, acquired from the artist [2]

1946 - 1956
Frederick A. P. Zimmermann (1906-1967), New York, NY, purchased from Curt Valentin [3]

1956 - 1983
Morton D. May (1914-1983), St. Louis, MO, purchased from Frederick A. P. Zimmermann [4]

1983 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, bequest of Morton D. May [5]

The main source for this provenance is Göpel's catalogue raisonné, cat. no. 547 [Göpel, Erhard and Barbara Göpel. "Max Beckmann: Katalog der Gemälde." Bern: Kornfeld & Cie., 1976]. Exceptions and other supporting documents are noted.

[1] Max Beckmann kept lists of most of his paintings which often included the dates that they were worked on and later notes on who purchased them. This painting appears on Beckmann's Amsterdam list. Beckmann notes that he started the painting around August 10 and finished it on August 18, 1940. He later noted that the painting was purchased by Frederick Zimmermann.

[2] According to a handwritten invoice from Frederick Zimmermann to Morton D. May, Zimmermann purchased the painting from Curt Valentin in December of 1946 [May Archives, Saint Louis Art Museum]. Curt Valentin was Beckmann's dealer and sold works for him on commission.

[3] See note [2].

[4] The purchase of the picture by May from Zimmermann is documented in correspondence and a hand-written invoice dated July 8, 1956 [May Archives, Saint Louis Art Museum].

[5] 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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