MAX BECKMANN (1884-1950)
Selbstbildnis mit steifem Hut
drypoint, 1921, on Roemerturm laid paper, watermark PL. ANTIQUE, signed in pencil, a very good impression of the third state (of four), presumably an unrecorded trial proof before the first edition of approximately fifty impressions published by I. B. Neumann, Berlin (there was also a second edition of approximately fifty impressions of the fourth, final state published in 1922)
Plate 313 x 247 mm.
Sheet 440 x 322 mm.
Hofmaier 180
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Lot Essay

Selbstbildnis mit steifem Hut ('Self-Portrait with Bowler Hat') is Beckmann's masterpiece as a print-maker and portraitist. Not unlike Rembrandt, who frequently made sweeping changes to his large drypoints, Beckmann radically revised the plate by adding and burnishing out entire elements of the composition. In the first and second states of Selbstbildnis mit steifem Hut the artist presents himself in a darkened studio, flanked by stretched canvases, casually holding a cigarette and cradling a black cat. To his left is a conical-shaped desk lamp, while in the background a ceiling light illuminates a cramped, claustrophobic interior. In the third state, an impression of which is offered here, the composition is substantially altered. The background is largely scrapped away, leaving a veil of residual tone and the ghostly suggestion of the studio. The desk lamp and stretchers on the left are replaced by the now relocated cat, who is seated on a small table, and on the right by a tankard, it's lid flipped open, partially concealing the tall glass chimney of a kerosene lamp. The kerosene lamp, however, casts no discernible light. Instead the artist's face is harshly illuminated by a single brilliant source from outside of the picture plane, with the bowler hat casting a looming, ominous shadow over the wide-eyed cat. The artist's features, clothing and hat are heavily re-worked and darkened with drypoint. The effect is suggestive of an interrogation room, with the artist staring inscrutably at the viewer, his inquisitor. In the fourth, final state, the image is tidied up by burnishing the remnants of the previous composition from the background. Impressions of the final state have strikingly stark quality, but lack the atmosphere and spontaneity of the present state.
Selbstbildnis encapsulates the contradictions and uncertainties of the Weimar Republic, an era of defiant decadence, haunted by memories of the horrors of the First World War, and suffused with a sense of foreboding for the future. Together with Erich Heckel's woodcut Männerbildnis (1919) Beckmann's Selbstbildnis mit steifem Hut is one of the most poignant images of the inter-war years, and one of the great self-portraits of 20th century printmaking.

Hofmaier recorded five trial proofs of the third state, two of which are listed as being on Roemerturm Antique laid paper.

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