Auktion 252: Max Beckmann - Die Sammlung Elesh
Museums throughout the western world are filled with hundreds of artists from numerous
countries whose works are often defined by art historians as being within a school or
movement. Such definitions have led to such broadly defined movements as French
Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, German Romanticism and Expressionism,
Cubism, Pop Art etc. And yet there are individuals that stand out from any such attempt
to place them within such broad definitions. These are artists whose individuality and
genius set them apart from their peers. Some tower above their contemporaries through
their technical brilliance; for examples Van Eyck, Dürer, Rubens, Hals, Velasquez and
Monet. Others stand out for their uniquely personal approach to their subject matter; for
example Bosch, Brueghel, Ensor and Redon. But there is also a third group whose works
are reflective of both their technical brilliance and their larger than life personalities,
individualists who infuse their art with a uniqueness that stands them apart from other
artists of their time or anytime. This list, for me, includes among others Da Vinci,
Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Lautrec, Van Gogh, Picasso and Beckmann.
I began to collect the graphic works of Max Beckmann at age fourteen, when my brother
and I were looking for a print for our parents twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, some
fifty-four years ago. (Our mother had taken us to a Beckmann exhibit, and we'd remembered
the name when we visited the Frumkin Gallery in Chicago.) After Oberlin College,
where I majored in art history under Wolfgang Stechow, I paid a return visit to the Frumkin
Gallery to see if there were any prints I could afford as a twenty-one year old. It was
then that I began to collect the self-portraits of Beckmann.
There are 40 Beckmann prints that will be auctioned at the Galerie Kornfeld Sale, 38 of
which are self-portraits. Why did I concentrate on the self-portrait? Simply answered,
self-portraiture has always fascinated me. From Dürer to Rembrandt, from Corinth to
Kollwitz to Beckmann, self-reflection as a means to understanding the artist and his or
her relationship to whatever truths being sought have always intrigued me. With Beckmann,
the viewer observes an artist whose complex breadth of vision never bores, whose
compositional approaches always challenge, and whose technical skills are those of a
One can ask the question as to what makes the Elesh Collection different from other
Beckmann collections, other than its emphasis on the self-portrait? When I was at Oberlin
College, Professor Stechow taught his students the concept of «educating the eye».
He made us aware that in order to best understand the intent of the printmaker, be it
Rembrandt or Beckmann as examples, one must search for the earliest impressions that
were pulled from the plate or stone. Over the fifty years that I've collected Beckmann,
I have continually sought to obtain these early, often rare impressions.
As I approach my seventh decade, I have decided that it is now time to pass on my collection
to the next generation of Beckmann enthusiasts so that they too can enjoy the
work of this profound master.
James N. Elesh Evanston, March 2011