Still Life with Toys and Shell

Accession Number

Still Life with Toys and Shell

Max Beckmann

Artist Nationality
German (culture or style)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
watercolor on pink paper

24 4/5 in x 19 in (63.02 cm x 48.26 cm);32 1/16 in x 26 1/16 in (81.44 cm x 66.2 cm);24 4/5 in x 19 in (63.02 cm x 48.26 cm)

Credit Line
Museum Purchase

Label copy
This drawing was created in the midst of Beckmann’s persecution by the Nazis for his political views and artistic innovations. In 1933 he was dismissed from a teaching post at the Städel Academy in Frankfurt, his work was removed from museums in Germany, and its exhibition was outlawed. Seeking anonymity, he moved to Berlin; few collectors were bold enough to buy his work.
This drawing can be seen in the context of those troubles, and understood as a commentary on them. Created in December of 1934, this still life of toylike objects seems at first glance like a holiday display (a reading enhanced by the playful pinks, yellows, and blues of the objects)—a toy soldier on the back of a giraffe, a conch shell, four smaller toy soldiers, a curled horn, a lute, a fez. Yet the predominantly military overtones of some of the objects—in particular, the toy soldiers, the horn, and the fez—may allude to Hitler’s military regime and Beckmann’s own revulsion toward war, perhaps triggered by his nervous breakdown brought on by military service in World War I. By reducing the Nazis to the status of toys, Beckmann symbolically reacts to their repression of his art and that of other persecuted artists.
Sean M. Ulmer, University Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, for "A Matter of Degree: Abstraction in Twentieth-Century Art," November 10, 2001 - January 27, 2002

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area
Modern and Contemporary

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Musical instruments
modern and contemporary art

& Author Notes

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