A mysterious I-don’t-know-what

In spite of his strong defence line, Dick Beer did not stay “modern” very long. It is quite clear that he was more severely touched by the critics’ arrows than he would admit. In 1920, he definitely ceases to be a cubist, the compositions are now entirely naturalist, but keeping much of a mysterious I-don’t-know-what of the epoch (let’s not forget that Picasso himself returned to naturalism in these years). Dick Beer is fully representative of European painting in the Entre-deux-guerres, a keen interpreter of moods such as life disillusions and nostalgic romanticism. The construction is classic, but what remains of cubism, his cubism, are the loaded patterns and a sense for the movement under the forms. Many of his canvases contain now thick layers of oil paint thanks to the knife technique. There are many symbolist/surrealist elements, such as strangely lit skies, or details which are not entirely natural within very classic compositions, a bizarre mixture of ugly and nice, harmony and disharmony. It is not an “easy” art. For the art lover attracted by appearance or first impression only, it is difficult to take in these Entre-deux compositions. We may term that a new kind of “trompe l’oeil painting”. Let us consider the portrait Ruth II, from 1922, presented at the commemorative exhibition in 1942. It looks very classic. But why does the ear seem unfinished and oddly willowy? And the lips, very thin, largely reveal a row of teeth caricatured as in a comic strip, an aggressive grin really. The supposedly clumsy drawing has a meaning. Dick Beer’s wife Ruth had sharp years, but he himself became gradually deaf while having been born with a good ear for music. Ruth was ambitious (see the French expression “avoir les dents longues”), had a sharp tongue (“avoir la dent dure” in French) and was good in business, while Dick was hopeless in money matters. Getting married in 1918, they were separated a couple of years after but remained close friends. Such a determined woman (see her iron-look in the portrait), wishing to be protective, could not have been easy to endure for a poor and cursed painter with a male super-ego.