Max Beckmann, The Mill - New Objectivity

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The redheaded, half-clad, helpless girl has an extraordinary, touching beauty. Her arms cross those of the standing man and together they parallel the windmill's sails which complete the unified pattern. It is a composition of cross-purposes, whose tyrannically imposed order, for each individual, amounts to senseless slavery. The windmill in this painting, seems to have acquired the shadowy face of a demon.
Beckmann's memories of the Nazi era may have welled to the surface. His fight for a "non-enemy declaration," his bad health in consequence of the war years' deprivations, and his immobility and helplessness in the coils of bureaucratic red tape had a disastrous effect on his nerves. And yet, these petty hindrances, even though they amounted to personal torture for the old freedom fighter, cannot elucidate the deeper contents of the artist's soul.

Beckmann's esoteric symbols have been well analyzed by Friedhelm Fischer. A clue is given in the half-illegible message underneath the cage: BRASITH ELOHIM. These words_the beginning of the Book of Genesis_open up a mythical perspective. Beckmann, a well-read man, knew much about Vedic, Platonic, and Gnostic myths. He studied Schopenhauer, and Madame Blavatsky's somewhat confused "Secret Instruction." Accordingly, the cage on the left may stand for the imprisonment of the human soul in fated worldly concerns, and the whirling mill may symbolize reincarnation through eternal cycles, the inescapable metempsychosis of Indian lore. Even the peaceful meadow seems to have undergone a sea change; it resembles a deluge.

Pinning down the artist's intentions and connotations may seem a futile endeavor. He was not an illustrator of ancient myths; he himself was haunted by sometimes frightful, sometimes blissful visions. But the overwhelming forcefulness of the symbolism in The Mill must impress even the uninitiated beholder.

It is of more than academic interest that the Portland Art Museum bought this work as early as December 1949. Such acts of recognition helped to make Beckmann's last three years_his American years_the most enjoyable of his life.
Max Carl Friedrich Beckmann (February 12, 1884 – December 27, 1950) was a German painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, and writer. Although he is classified as an Expressionist artist, he rejected both the term and the movement. In the 1920s, he was associated with the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), an outgrowth of Expressionism that opposed its introverted emotionalism. Even when dealing with light subject matter like circus performers, Beckmann often had an undercurrent of moodiness or unease in his works. By the 1930s, his work became more explicit in its horrifying imagery and distorted forms with combination of brutal realism and social criticism, coinciding with the rise of nazism in Germany

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