This painting depicts Perseus, a celebrated warrior from Greek mythology whose name derives from the Greek word "to waste, ravage, sack, destroy." Perseus’s most famous feat was cutting off Medusa’s head. Yet, the mass slaughter depicted here is not found in the ancient myth, but instead suggests a nightmarish allegory filled with private, enigmatic symbols, perhaps reflecting Beckmann’s experience of barely surviving two world wars. Traumatized while serving as a medical orderly during WWI, Beckmann later became the target of Nazi persecution. In 1947 he immigrated to the United States. Created in the aftermath of the Holocaust and under the Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation, this painting suggests a bitter critique of mankind’s propensity for destruction. Presenting Perseus in female dress subverts the hypermasculine glamorization of military heroes common to national historical myths.

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  • Title: Perseus's Last Duty
  • Creator: Max Beckmann (German, 1884–1950)
  • Date Created: 1949
  • Physical Dimensions: Framed: 125 x 178.5 x 8.5 cm (49 3/16 x 70 1/4 x 3 3/8 in.); Unframed: 89.4 x 142 cm (35 3/16 x 55 7/8 in.)
  • Provenance: Estate of the Artist, sold to Catherine Viviano Gallery, (Catherine Viviano Gallery, New York, NY, 1962, sold to Stanley J. Seeger), Stanley J. Seeger [1930-2011], New York, NY and London, United Kingdom, consigned to Sotheby's NY for sale, (Sotheby's, New York, NY, May 8, 2001, sold to Private Collection), (French & Co., New York, NY, 2013, sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art ), The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: CC0
  • External Link: https://clevelandart.org/art/2013.7
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Inscriptions: signed lower middle: "Beckmann NY 49"
  • Fun Fact: The reclining figure encircled by the griffin's tail at the far right may be the artist's self-portrait.
  • Department: Modern European Painting and Sculpture
  • Culture: Germany, 20th century
  • Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Henry White Cannon by exchange
  • Collection: Mod Euro - Painting 1800-1960
  • Accession Number: 2013.7

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