A self-portrait by German artist Max Beckmann fetched $20.7 million on Thursday, making it the highest-selling work in German auctions ever.
The work was sold on Thursday at the Grisebach auction house in Berlin. Titled “Selbstbildnis gelb-rosa” (Self-Portrait Yellow-Pink), the work was created in 1943 in Amsterdam. It was created during Beckmann’s exile from Germany after the Nazi regime denounced his art as “degenerate” and confiscated hundreds of his works. After completing the self-portrait, Beckmann gifted it to Mathilde Kaulbach, his wife. The painting was with her until her death in 1986, after which it entered a private collection. This is only the second time the work has changed hands when it was bought by an unidentified Swiss buyer for a record $20.7 million.
While Max Beckmann is primarily known for his self-portraits, this work was unique for a few reasons. First, it was one of the few Beckmann works that remain in the private domain; most others are in government-owned collections. Second, it is one of the few works that were created by Beckmann during his exile; a period during which his style changed considerably.
With its impressive price tag, the painting broke the record previously by a Buddhist deity sculpture. The 15th-century sculpture, which came from China, sold for around $10 million last year. Despite its impressive number, Selbstbildnis gelb-rosa is not the most expensive work by Max Beckmann. Selbstbildnis mit Horn (1938) is the most expensive self-portrait by the artist which was sold for $22.5 million in 2001 in Sotheby’s New York. The overall most expensive work by Beckmann was Bird’s Hell (1938-39), which sold for a whopping $44 million at Christie’s London auction in 2017.