Self-portrait of artist who fled Nazis may break German auction record

Auction house Villa Grisebach in Berlin estimates that 'Self-portrait in yellow-pink' will attract bids of up to 30 million euros.

 Max Beckmann: Self-portrait (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Max Beckmann: Self-portrait
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A striking self-portrait created by artist Max Beckmann during World War Two after he fled Nazi Germany is expected to fetch up to 30 million euros ($31.11 million) on Thursday, a record for a painting sold at auction in Germany.

Auction house Villa Grisebach in Berlin estimates that 'Self-portrait in yellow-pink' will attract bids of up to 30 million euros.

The self-portrait, painted in 1943, is a rarely seen masterpiece, Micaela Kapitzky, director and partner at Villa Grisebach, told Reuters.

"The opportunity to buy a Beckmann self-portrait of this quality will not come up again. So it's something very special," said Kapitzky.

The story behind the self-portrait

 A visitor looks at paintings of French impressionist Paul Cezanne entitled ''Pichet et fruits sur une table'' (L) and at Max Beckmann ''Selbstbildnis mit Horn'' (R) at Sotheby's in Zurich April 9, 2001. The Cezanne will be auctioned at an estimated price of $14-20 million and the Beckmann at $7-10 mill (credit: REUTERS) A visitor looks at paintings of French impressionist Paul Cezanne entitled ''Pichet et fruits sur une table'' (L) and at Max Beckmann ''Selbstbildnis mit Horn'' (R) at Sotheby's in Zurich April 9, 2001. The Cezanne will be auctioned at an estimated price of $14-20 million and the Beckmann at $7-10 mill (credit: REUTERS)

Beckmann, widely viewed as a major modern artist of the last century, painted it in exile in Amsterdam.

After the Nazis branded his paintings "degenerate art", Beckmann and his wife, Mathilde, known as "Quappi", fled Germany in 1937. Waiting in Amsterdam for years for a visa to the United States, Beckmann worked under adverse circumstances.

In the portrait, Beckmann departed from his usual dark colors and painted himself wearing a yellow fabric. His distant gaze, meditation-like pose and almost bald head are reminiscent of a Buddhist monk, said the auction house.

The provenance of the artwork is impeccable, as he gave it as a gift to his wife who never sold it, said Kapitzky.

She loved it and kept it until she died in 1986. Eventually, a private collection in Switzerland purchased the painting before entrusting it to Villa Grisebach.

"You're also humbled in a way, because of course when you're entrusted with a painting like this, it's such a big deal and it's also such a big honor,"

Markus Krause, director and partner at Villa Grisebach

Such a large sale could give a boost to Germany's art market, which trails New York, London and Paris.

In 2018, Villa Grisebach obtained the highest auction price to date for a painting in Germany when it sold Max Beckmann's 'The Egyptian' for 5.5 million euros.

Markus Krause, director and partner at Villa Grisebach, expressed excitement at the auction, which he is to conduct.

"You're also humbled in a way, because of course when you're entrusted with a painting like this, it's such a big deal and it's also such a big honor," he told Reuters.