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Last Triptych

Pablo Journal
The Louvre Test

First Triptych

1998 Year 1 No. 4 Aug 27

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After World War II, Picasso was asked to donate some works to French museums. As a compensation, he was granted a confrontation of some of his paintings to works of his colleagues in the Louvre, on a day closed to the public. Only very few persons were present. In a kind of ceremony, his works were hung side by side with other works of his choice. Rarely did someone speak. Afterwards, Picasso is to have said: "C'est la même chose!", i.e. it's the same thing: He and the other masters were doing the same, despite of different styles and attitudes. (As I recall the biographical notes of Françoise Gilot, then related with Picasso.) To me, this confrontation of works of different masters was a very interesting experience I would like to share with you. Hence this enterprise is dedicated to Pablo Picasso.


This series is not intended to be a university course. I am not an art scholar, I am just a painter and art lover only. As lover I will approach one of the works of art the heritage of all mankind has left us, one by one, week after week, as long as I can. I will keep my investigation personal and simple, meant to open your eyes to see for yourself. Words can be used as a means to that end, but it is rather the space between the words that does the work. A great master of the art of appreciation of art, Kurt Rossacher of Vienna, demanded to see with nose first, eyes, tongue, heart, and only at last with the brain.

Your appreciation will give me the power and strength to endure. It is for you and all the great masters that I do this work, and I hope you will enjoy it. So don't hesitate to send me your feedback in order to help me with that goal! This kind of journal is new to the net, so please tell me if the size is ok (images are great, but big!).

As I am writing in a foreign language, I am not sure to express myself correctly, but I hope you will be able to guess what I mean any time.

Also, I invite you to join in my effort. Send me your articles and comments to be published in this journal.

Yours truly,

Beckmann (1884-1950)
Argonauts, Last Triptych

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Location Size Date Scan

Private Collection, New York

204*122 cm 80x48"


Mark Harden
Beckmann, Argonauts
joe, 572-4

Joe (1948-)
572-4, First Triptych

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Location Size Date Scan

Artist's Collection, Loehne, DE

156*325 cm 61x128"


Werner Stürenburg

Beckmann, Argonauts

The middle plate of the triptych was featured last week with Gruenewald's resurrection. These days I read the booklet Beckmann's son Peter wrote about 10 years ago, and of course he talks about this one. Beckmann wrote a diary which was published, and he refers to this painting 37 times. He started the left wing in April 1959, the middle pate was mentioned the first time in March 1950. He called the triptych "The artists", had sketched the right plate and called it "woman's wing", wrote "Gets going and interesting now." Late in December 1950 the title "Argonauts" appeared, it was finished on the 26th, the very next day he died on a stroll in New York.

In exile 1943, Beckmann gave a photograph of his masterpiece of young days, the young men at the sea, to a friend in emigration, and noted on the back: "In memory of the argonauts conversation." F.W. Fischer, the noted Beckmann specialist, holds that there is no specific relation to the Greek argonauts saga. The sea with its infinity, the space, the young men were symbols to him of life and its possibilities. Peter Beckmann sees this painting as the essence of his father's life devoted to make visible the invisible through art, which is his means to redemption.

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Fischer deciphered lots of details in Beckmann's paintings related to occult conceptions, and indeed he found that Beckmann possessed and had read many books in this direction. Art in this context was a means to accomplish the great work, or according to Peter: To depict the essential realities.

The great work, as Peter sees it, is the insight of the meaning of the essential realities (I try to translate, I do not pretend to understand this). It is the redemption of the fetters of our existence being a main theme for Beckmann. Redemption is gained through always new ascents into the wideness of the space - a space ruling over the demons and demiurges. This way Max Beckmann was able to reproach one of the gods with what he did wrong and depict this wrongness recklessly over and over. Above this wrongness are the stars. To these leads the ladder with the seven steps, the cosmic ladder, taken by the theosophists as the levels of being.

To this ladder in the middle plate of the triptych "Argonauts" the old man refers the young men who appear to be questioning him. He wears this ladder and passes it on to those who look for the fleece.

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The left panel shows the painter concentrated on his work, not being attracted by he symbols of vitality, the sword, the breasts, the thighs of the woman, hovering over the mask rather than sitting. Peter likes to recognize this mask as Beckmann's own head, the hull of Beckmann, dropped off, taking a painter as a representation for standing in tension between picture and luring life.

The right wing is devoted to music. Peter understands it as a devotion to Beckmann's second wife Quappi, who was a gifted violinist. He sees her depicted showing her back in the upper part. Also he sees a reminiscence of his first wife Minna Tube who was a noted singer.

Peter sees this triptych as a document of fidelity to his own work. He sees the three periods of his doing in these panels amalgamated: The period of depicting in engaged distance, the period of expressive interest and the period of individual identification. This composition shows the redemption and liberation Beckmann sought and found for himself and his friends.

So far Peter Beckmann. See for yourself.

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Joe, 572-4

This is my first triptych, and it was very exiting how I got there. At that time I could not afford to pay someone for doing all that craft work like framing. So I advertised to do it in exchange for schooling. A young lady came, having started university studies in theology and flunked after a couple of months, not knowing what to do next, maybe doing arts.

She made lots of panels from a piece of linen some 133" wide and 236" long. Naturally, there were clippings and we contemplated what to do with them. So we decided to make panels from them, too. When ready, there were some very small and high panels, and I dropped a remark about them looking like wings of a triptych.

It turned out she never heard this word. I told her of this species coming from middle ages altar pieces to be changed according to the change of the religious year, usually depicting scenes from Easter, Christmas, resurrection, descent from the cross, holy persons and the like. Also I told her of the many triptychs done in this century by modern masters, void of any religious content and not to be changed at all, rather a formal collection of separate paintings put together. Also, I told her I disapproved the loss of both reasons to produce a triptych, formal reasons being too weak for me.

Afterwards it occurred to me that I never actually saw this change. In museums, you see it opened, mostly one side with three plates. I knew somehow that the Isenheimer Altar by Gruenewald has three views, and I tried to figure out how such an opening and closing could be managed. If you start with 3 plates, they could be made to fit so that the painting would shrink in size to the middle plate when closing the wings, much like a dresser. Conversely, if you open it, it would grow in size. How could this be opened for a third view?

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To shorten the story, I ended up with a paper model of a 4 view altar piece. But how could such a painting be done? Doing one single painting was mysterious enough. I hung three panels to my easel and started work as usual. This was my first triptych. Instead of working on one panel, I worked on three at once. It was to my surprise no more difficult than with one panel, maybe even more interesting as there were three panels to communicate. Now here it is, and as usual I don't know what it is all about.

It certainly is not an outcome of my readings or thoughts. When I read about Fischer's comments on Beckmann, I felt he went too far in suggesting Beckmann to be illustrating gnostic and occult ideas. I wrote him a letter some 20 years ago, but he sent me a stereotype answer from his secretary. In fact, Beckmann said "When I paint, I do not think", and Fischer takes this quote as a motto to one of his chapters. Well, Fischer was a scholar, and as such he is bound to translate into words what others have to paint as unexpressible otherwise.

After this first triptych, I did another one and contemplated the altar idea. I finally realized it, and some time later, I did a third triptych. The triptychs cannot be changed. The plates are of equal height, but the wings don't have back paintings, and they would not close as a dresser. The altar story is interesting, too, but I won't tell it now.

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Last week:

Next week:

Argonauts, Middle Plate

Resurrection, Right Plate Isenheim Altar

Little fur


Venus and Cupido

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