Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Like his large triptych Actors, on view in a gallery on the opposite side of the Calderwood Courtyard, Beckmann’s The Fire takes as its subject Amsterdam during World War II. This small still life focuses on the more mundane challenges of the exile experience. By the winter of 1944/1945, Beckmann’s large studio, a former tobacco storeroom, could no longer be adequately heated for lack of coal. The inspiration for this painting was the new round oven used by the artist in a makeshift space. The temperature, as the artist notes in his diary, was still a brisk “8 degrees Celsius” (about 46ºF).

Thanks to a strong network of supporters during his ten-year exile in Amsterdam (1937–47), Beckmann continued to sell his work abroad, as well as in Germany, despite the strict ban there on the sale of art deemed “degenerate.” This small painting, however, remained with the artist until his death in 1950.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Max Beckmann, German (Leipzig, Germany 1884 - 1950 New York, N.Y., USA)
The Fire (Small Still Life)
Other Titles
Former Title: Still Life with Fire
Work Type
Creation Place: Europe, Germany
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
60.3 x 40 cm (23 3/4 x 15 3/4 in.)
framed: 61.7 x 41.5 x 3.2 cm (24 5/16 x 16 5/16 x 1 1/4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.l.: Beckmann, A.
Robert Heilbronner, 1953. [Buchholz Gallery, New York, New York], sold; to Alfred Jaretzki, Jr., New York, New York, 1955, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1976.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Alfred Jaretzki, Jr.
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
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Exhibition History

19th- and 20th-Century Paintings and Sculpture from the Museum's Collection, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 06/11/1980 - 08/31/1980

German Painting 1760-1960: A New Installation, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 12/20/1983 - 02/19/1984

32Q: 1500 Art in Germany Between the Wars (Expressionism-Interwar), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 08/10/2016; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/05/2019 - 06/03/2021

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at