The Synagogue in Frankfurt am Main, 1919

This work is one of a series of city views produced by Max Beckmann before he was dismissed from his teaching position at the Städel School in 1933. His townscapes reproduce actual topographical places, but the artist substantially intervened in reality. Already the dramatically crooked houses, windows and street poles show that he did not draw solely from the objective appearance of Börneplatz square with its massive synagogue. The biographical backgrounds of the three figures in front of the temple are known. From left to right, they are friends of Beckmann’s – Ugi and Friedel Battenberg – and the artist himself, on the way home in the early morning after a night of carnival festivities.

Beckmann has added to this “realistic” scene a great number of enigmatic, ultimately inexplicable symbols. A funnel like the horn of a gramophone is suspended above the square; we also find two glass spheres magically afloat (divine spirits?), an oversized cat in the pose of attentive observation (Beckmann’s “alter ego”?) and a captive balloon. Another odd feature is the double moon – one in the sky in front of the bright clouds, the other on the advertising pillar before a dark sky. It is a composition assembled from basic geometric forms – rectangles, triangles and circles – and countless ambiguities. The longer you look at it, the more inextricably you get caught up in its riddles.

© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

Oil on canvas
90 × 140 cm
Inv. No. 1239

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