On May 31, in Berlin, Grisebach (30/25/20% buyer’s premium) offered Beckmann’s Weiblicher Kopf in Blau und Grau (Female Head in Blue and Grey) for a guide price of €1.5m-2m.
Beckmann had executed the 2ft x 12in (60 x 30cm) painting in 1942 during his exile in Amsterdam. He had fled Germany under pressure from the Nazis. In this difficult phase of his life he was highly creative, producing many of his best-known works.
In his diary entry of July 27, 1942, Beckmann complained about the miserable weather in Amsterdam (“Rain, rain, rain”), but also mentioned his work on the portrait. When he showed the completed painting to friends, they christened it Ägypterin (Egyptian Woman), a name that has stuck.
According to Erhard Göpel (1906-66), the editor of Beckmann’s catalogue raisonné and with his wife, Barbara, the first and only owner of the painting, the vision of the Egyptian woman had appeared to the artist in a dream.
It was now consigned as part of the legacy of Barbara Göpel (1922-2017). This turned out to be a dream of a day for the auctioneers: four bidders in the room competed with 13 on the phones until the price had reached €4.7m (£4.16m), with a Swiss private collector carrying away his prize.
The previous auction record for any painting at a German auction had stood since 2005. It too was held by Grisebach, also for a painting by Max Beckmann and from the same year as the Ägypterin. Thirteen years ago Anni (Mädchen mit Fächer)/Anni (Girl with a Fan) was knocked down in Berlin for €3.4m.