How did it get from Berlin to Harvard? In 1937, the Nazis confiscated works of “degenerate art” from German institutional collections. In 1938 it sold off many of them, converting the artworks into hard currency.
Today the Victoria & Albert Museum digitally published a remarkable document from its collection: The Nazis’ own log book of degenerate art it removed from Germany’s public institutions and often sold. The two-volume document is now available as a free, Creative Commons-licensed download. Here’s Volume One. Here’s Volume Two.
From that document, here’s the Nazis’ own record of the confiscation and sale of the Beckmann. It’s No. 21, Selbstbildnis. As you can see, it was sold for the Nazis by Berlin dealer Karl Buchholz, one of the four dealers the Nazis used to sell off ‘degenerate art.’ (Before the Nazi era, Buchholz had been Beckmann’s Berlin dealer. The men were close enough that when the Beckmanns fled Germany for Amsterdam in 1937, it was Buchholz who delivered their dog to them.)
Charles Kuhn, a curator at Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum, acquired Self-Portrait in Tuxedo from American-German dealer Curt Valentin, who had once worked for Buchholz, for $400 in 1941.