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The Skaters

At first glance this painting seems whimsical and lighthearted. Legs flying in the air, colorful costumes and the clear, crisp landscape set up a cheery ice-skating scene.

But things are seldom as simple as they seem. Look a little closer at the painting. The man on the left has a sinister look on his face. The figures wobble on their skates. The door on the left seems out of place. The artist of this painting, Max Beckmann, was sending a larger message through his work. What could that be?

Max Beckmann, The Skaters, 1932, oil on canvas, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The Skaters portrays life as an uncertain balancing act.
Max Beckmann's experiences with the brutality of war inspired his artwork.
Beckmann repeated the themes seen in The Skaters throughout his career.

Painting Topsy-Turvy: How do diagonal lines affect our feelings about Max Beckmann's skaters? Find out by straightening up the scene. Print the image at the top of this page and cut out the three skaters, the side of the hut, and the light pole. Draw a 3-1/2" x 4-1/2" box on a piece of paper. Rearrange the figures in the box so that the two men are standing straight and the hut and pole are vertical. (You will need to trim the left side of the hut.) Compare your version with the original. How has the mood changed? Now transfer the pieces to a larger sheet of paper to give the figures more space. Draw in other things that might be going around the skaters. Will your scene be topsy turvy or orderly? How will you show that? How do your feelings about the skaters change when there is more space around them?  

Postcard Home: Max Beckmann painted The Skaters shortly after a holiday at a winter resort, which probably inspired this scene. From what you see in this picture, write a five sentence postcard Beckmann might have sent to a friend back home. Compare your postcard message with someone else's. Did you both pick up on the same details in the picture? Did you notice anything new in the picture after reading the other postcard message?  

What Did the Weatherman Say That Day?: Examine the painting for clues about weather conditions in this scene. How many different details can you find that give you that information? Make a list of those details and then write a weather forecast for that day, including temperature, cloud cover, precipitation, wind levels, and advice about other suitable activities. Then imagine a different set of weather conditions on another day. Draw a picture of the same place on the day you imagined. Which details of the picture would change? Which would remain the same?  

Aspects of Winter: Artists can draw out different moods and feelings even when they depict the same subject. Make a catalog of the different qualities of winter using the Art Collector tool at (Art Collector is free but you'll need to log in.) Compare the examples of winter scenes and add your own text to explain what mood the artist has created. What do you see in each picture that helps establish the mood? (Think about how Beckmann played with diagonal lines and the space around figures to create the mood of The Skaters.) Which picture best expresses your favorite aspect of winter? Explain what you see in the picture that reminds you of your own experiences. Click here to begin or here to learn more about Art Collector.  

Auf Deutsch: Click here for a German version of these pages.  

December 2003