Max Beckmann's Germanic view of a Mediterranean landscape is a stage between acts. If we wait a moment longer, gazing toward the sea, will one of his society ladies stalk pensively into the frame from the right?
If she did she'd disrupt a composition so finely balanced, so cleverly assymetrical, it takes a second to register that the path we are peering down is exactly center. Is it a landscape for composition's sake? Or the uneasy paradise of a worldly skeptic? Those spiky palms, those gigantic buds in the foreground...do I dare sit in that chair and turn my back on those shadows?
I often show my somewhat battered postcard of this picture in my drawing and painting classes. I probably got it on my last visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, but I didn't remember the painting being there. And so on my visit last weekend, when I came around the corner and there it was, I jumped and had to look elsewhere before I could compose myself enough to return to it.
When I finally turned my full attention to the picture, how marvelous! Up close, the unworried brushstrokes; the sensuous yellow on yellow, canvas showing through, on the path through the trees; the black that simultaneously defines flat shapes and imparts dimension - all the rewards of seeing the real thing, live and in person - of feeling, come to think of it, like the woman about to walk into the picture.