One of these, Bildnis Rietje & Nelly Lütjens (Portrait of Rietje & Nelly Lütjens), is among the highlights of Karl & Faber’s sale on June 29-30 in Munich.
In recent times, it has been in an American collection and its significance in Beckmann’s oeuvre arises from the year it was completed: 1945.
This was a fraught time for the artist who had left Germany in 1937 and spent most of the following years in the Netherlands. It was not until 1947 that he finally received a visa for the US, a document he had been hoping for since his arrival in Amsterdam.
During his exile in the Dutch capital, Helmuth Lütjens, a Dutch art dealer of German origin, was the most important supporter of Beckmann and his wife. Lütjens removed almost all the paintings in the artist’s Amsterdam studio and stored them in a safe place, well away from the curious eyes of the authorities.
As soon as they were finished, new paintings were also taken away by the friend.
Not least out of gratitude, Beckmann painted this portrait of Helmuth’s wife Nelly and their eldest daughter, two-year-old Annemarie, who was known in the family as Rietje.
Surprisingly, Lütjens did not purchase the 2ft 10in x 2ft 2in (86 x 65.5cm) canvas, but kept it as a loan, until he returned it to the artist sometime after the end of the war.
When the painting was offered for sale in Karlsruhe in 1963, the price tag was $25,000. Karl & Faber is now hoping for €900,000-1.2m.