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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

The Pompeii Clowns

The Pompeii Clowns


Max Beckmann

German, 1884-1950

In 1947 the German expressionist painter Beckmann moved to the United States. This work was made in New York in the last year of his life and represented characters caught in what he called "the ruthless drama of contemporary living." The quintet of figures seems as disconnected and frozen as the famous corpses of Pompeii, and in fact the artist included details from well-known Pompeian artworks to reinforce the comparison.
Oil on canvas
36 x 55 in. (91.44 x 139.7 cm)
Gift of Sidney and Anne Gerber
Provenance: [Curt Valentin Gallery, New York]; purchased from gallery by Sidney and Anne Gerber, Seattle, Washington, ca. Feb. 23, 1955; to Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 1955
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistoryNew York, New York, Buchholz Gallery, Last Paintings, 1951.

Worcester, Massachusetts, Worcester Art Museum, Contemporary Art in the U.S., 1951.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Expressionism, Nov. 5, 1952 - Jan. 4, 1953.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Contemporary Trends in International Art, Apr. 7 - May 1, 1955.

Washington, D.C., Washington Gallery of Modern Art, 20th Century Paintings from Washington State Collections, 1966.

Vancouver, British Columbia, Vancouver Art Gallery, The Seattle Art Museum Lends, Mar. 13 - Apr. 11, 1976. No cat. no.

Köln, Germany, Kunsthalle Köln, Centennial Celebration of Max Beckmann’s Birthday, Apr. - June 1984. Reproduced.

Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, Max Beckmann, Oct. 21, 1984 - Jan.13, 1985.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum Modern Art Pavilion, Modern German Masterpieces from the St. Louis Art Museum, Nov. 13, 1986 - Jan.14, 1987.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, The Museum: Mixed Metaphors, Fred Wilson, Jan. 28 - June 13, 1993. Text by Patterson Sims. No cat. no., reproduced p. 20.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Five Installations on the Fourth Floor: Unpretty Pictures, June 26, 1997.

Frankfurt, Germany, Stadel Museum, Max Beckmann & America, Oct. 7, 2011 - Jan. 8, 2012. No cat. no., pp. 200-01.
Published ReferencesBeckmann, Max. Tagebucher 1940-1950. Munich, 1955; pp. 358-360.

Wilson, Patricia Boyd. “The Home Forum.” Christian Science Monitor (December 9, 1972): p. 6

Göpel, Barbara and Erhard Göpel. Max Beckmann. Katalog der Gemälde. Bern: Verlag Kornfeld und Cie, 1976; p. 489

Beckmann, Max. Max Beckmann: 19. April bis 24. Juni 1984, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle. Köln: Verlagshaus Wienand, 1984; p. 176-177.

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