The ’Great War’ had a lasting and profound effect on Beckmann. In 1915 he suffered a mental breakdown and for this reason was discharged from the German army. In artistic terms, the sickening experience of senseless mass death on the battlefield brought new bleakness to his paintings.
Beckmann’s use of a traditional Vanitas-style still life tells us a lot about what his thoughts are about the world he is part of, especially after his war encounters.This Vanitas work springs from his before mentioned terrible experiences during World War One, the political crisis of 1920s and 1930s Germany, the rise of Hitler and exile, a completely new area for Beckmann. After the rise of Hitler, Beckmann's popularity distinguished as Hitler would have no portrayal of what Nazi Germany was really like (violent and corrupt), even through art as the Nazi people deemed his work "degenerate".
It was in response to Nazi terror that Beckmann produced his first tripitch (a picture of three panels hinged vertically together), called Departure (1932-1935). The side panels depict torture and suffering, while the centre piece shows a woman and child on board a boat on a bright blue sea (although hinting at an unknown fate awaiting them).
Beckmann fled Germany in 1937, taking refuge in Amsterdam, where he painted this still life during the final months of World War II. He combines a flat sense, and sharp, bold and intense colours with traditional Vanitas still life objects (the skulls).Also including an extinguished candle, playing cards-that possibly could suggest the gamble of human life that the war brought with it. The artist described these years as "a truly grotesque time, full to the brim with work, Nazi persecutions, bombs, hunger." In the choice of objects, the prominence of black, and the thick, rough paint, this still life captures the grim mood portrayed by such words.
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