In March 2018 the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin received a significant bequest from the estate of art historian Barbara Malwine Auguste Göpel (1922–2017), consisting in in two paintings, 46 drawings and 52 prints by Max Beckmann along with a painting by Hans Purrmann. The works have entered collections of the Nationalgalerie and the Kupferstichkabinett. This entire, historically significant bequest will now be presented to the public for the first time. The provenance of the works will also be a theme. They were acquired in the 1940s and 1950s by the art historian Dr. Erhard Göpel, Barbara Göpel’s husband, who died in 1966.
The Barbara Göpel Bequest represents a significant addition to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s collection of classical modernist works. It makes possible a multifaceted insight into Max Beckmann’s (1884–1950) artistic oeuvre. The 46 drawings, for example, provide an almost perfectly representative sample of the different phases of the artist’s career, from his beginnings as a student in Weimar in 1900 until the last year of his exile in Amsterdam (1937–1947). A particularly moving emphasis lies in the sketches Beckmann produced during his medical service on the eastern front and in Flanders during the First World War. Many of these drawings have hardly been shown at all during recent decades, and only very few researchers have known about them. Besides revealing Beckmann’s use of different media and formats, they also place his stylistic development under the spotlight.
Numerous portraits are among the drawings of the Göpel Collection, including one of the artist’s earliest self-portraits, the Self-Portrait with a Brimmed Hat[MH1] from 1901. The portraits of his second wife Quappi from the year of their wedding, 1925, are also unique. The same can be said for two studies Beckmann made for the 1929 portrait of the collector Gottlieb Friedrich Reber, now at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.
Besides further self-portraits, the 52 graphic prints, for the most part produced between 1911 and 1929, include numerous rare test prints of high quality. These are distinguished from the regular prints, many of which already belong to the Kupferstichkabinett’s collection, by the use of special papers, for example laid paper or washi. Furthermore, Beckmann also finished some of the prints with pencil – as in the case of an early, extremely rare, etched Self-Portrait, done in 1904.
Finally, the paintings Self-Portrait in the Bar (1942) and Portrait of Erhard Göpel (1944) illuminate the artist’s work in Amsterdam, where he spent time in exile after having been vilified as “degenerate” under the so-called Third Reich. While the first shows Beckmann sitting at a table in a bar, tired and introspective, his large-format portrait of the 38-year-old Erhard Göpel presents the latter as an intellectual immersed in thought. Hans Purrmann’s 1955 painting Landscape (Houses and Walls in in Porto d’Ischia) is also being shown. Between 1953 and 1958 Purrmann, a close friend of the Göpels, regularly spent time in Ischia. The landscapes he painted there feature saturated, glowing colours.
Barbara Göpel was the widow of art historian Dr. Erhard Göpel, whose role under National Socialism appears to have been deeply ambivalent. From 1942 he participated in the Nazi-organised plunder of artworks through his involvement with the Sonderauftrag Linz (Special Commission: Linz). At the same time, however, Göpel protected his friend Max Beckmann from the National Socialists, who had labelled Beckmann “degenerate”. After 1945, the Göpels rendered services to research into classical modernist art and particularly into the oeuvres of Beckmann and Purrmann. Erhard Göpel purchased the paintings and many of the graphical works directly from the artists: in Max Beckmann’s studio in Amsterdam in 1943 and 1944 and from Hans Purrmann in 1955.
The bequest to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin was facilitated by Eugen Blume who was director of the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin until August 2016 and a close friend of Barbara Göpel.
The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is committed to on-going research into the provenance of artworks according to the Washington Principles. In preparation for the special presentation, the Central Archive has therefore begun a thorough investigation of the provenance of the bequeathed works. And although there is no concrete suspicion of Nazi plunder in relation to any of the pre-1945 works of the bequest, unbroken biographies of the graphical prints, of which numerous copies where produced, have not been uncovered. The special presentation will link the results of provenance research to both a chronological classification of the works and particular thematic emphases.