Max Beckmann planned to paint a ninth and final triptych called "The Artists," with the left panel representing painting, the right panel music, and the middle panel, with its central, garlanded figure, poetry. He was moved by a dream to rename it The Argonauts, after the heroes of Greek mythology who traveled with Jason in search of the Golden Fleece. Beckmann's middle panel has at its center the poet Orpheus, at his right Jason, and at his left the sea god Glaucus, who in one ancient account foretells the future to Jason and Orpheus. The woman brandishing a sword in the left panel represents Medea, and the women in the right panel serve as a chorus.
The painting's title may also allude to a group of poets and painters with whom Beckmann associated during his years in Amsterdam, 1937-47, who called themselves "the Argonauts." Indeed, multiple references to Beckmann's art and his life are evident throughout the three panels, making The Argonauts a complex autobiographical allegory as well as a broader allegory of the life of the artist; a saga of worldly travail and eternal reward.
The artist [1884-1950]; by inheritance to his wife, Mathilde Q. Beckmann [1904-1986], New York; gift 1975 to NGA.
- Max Beckmann, Buchholz Gallery, New York, 1951, no. 15, repro.
- Deutsche Kunst: Meisterwerke des 20. Jahrhunderts, Kunstmuseum, Lucerne, 1953, no. 240.
- Max Beckmann in America: An Exhibition of Paintings 1947-1950, Catherine Viviano Gallery, New York, 1969, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Aspects of Twentieth-Century Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1978-1979, no. 59, repro.
- Max Beckmann in Exile, Guggenheim Museum Soho, New York, 1996-1997, no. 20, repro.
- Exiles and Emigrés: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Musée des Beaux Arts, Montreal; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1997-1998, no. 16, fig. 45.
- Max Beckmann, un peintre dans l'histoire (French title); Max Beckmann (Engligh title), Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; The Museum of Modern Art, Queens, Long Island City, 2002-2003, no. 163, repro.
- Drei - Das Triptychon in der Moderne [Three - The Triptych in Modern Art], Stiftung Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, 2009, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Beckmann & America, Städel Museum, Frankfurt, 2011-2012, no. 104, repro.
- Strick, Jeremy. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture: Selections for the Tenth Anniversary of the East Building. Washington, D.C., 1989: repro. 68, 69.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 264, repro.
- Selz, Peter. Beyond the Mainstream, Essays on Modern and Contemporary Art, 1997, no 58, repro.
- Max Beckmann: Zeichnugen aus dem Nachla Mathilde Q. Beckman. Bonn:1998, 50-51, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 428-429, no. 357, color repro.