Beckmann precipitately left Germany in 1937 and settled in Amsterdam. Like Miro at the same time in Spain, he could not manage to stay away from politics. He immediately conceived a great composition, first entitled Der Land des Wahnsinningen (the country of the insane) which would express his horror of the collectivisms.
Completed at the end of the summer of 1938, Hölle der Vögel (hell of birds) is the achievement of that project. This oil on canvas 120 x 160 cm is for sale by Christie's in London on June 27, lot 11. Three days before the press release of May 8, Financial Time announced an estimate of £ 30M.
This scene mixes the medieval and the modern to better express the permanent threat of abject persecution. Tortures are inflicted by hooded birds. In a claustrophobic atmosphere with black lines and garish colors, the victim chained on an Inquisition bed is a light spot. A bird plows his back to the blood with a large knife.
This lugubrious ceremony is presided by a harpy standing out of her broken egg with a monstrous breast. The crowd of secondary characters is made up of screaming nudes who perform the Hitler Grüss, removing any possible doubt about the interpretation of this allegory in the modern world.
The narrative abundance in that work is inspired by medieval imagery. The choice of the bird as a symbol of blind fury reminds the man-swallowing bird in Bosch's Hell.
The political violence in Hölle der Vögel may be compared to Picasso's Guernica, also conceived in 1937. Beckmann's painting, cautiously preserved in a private apartment in Paris until the end of the Second World War, would have deserved a similar notoriety.
Please watch both videos shared by Christie's, one of them positioning the artwork within Beckmann's career and the other one in which the auction house chose to accompany it by the reading of a similarly inspired poem by W. H. Auden.
SOLD for £ 36M including premium