Though Beckmann was not politically active, he was deeply concerned by the growing support for the National Socialist Party in Germany. The regime treated avant-garde art with distrust, seeing it as a subversive threat to its own plans for shaping national culture. In 1933, the year Hitler seized power, the National Gallery in Berlin was forced to remove a group of Beckmann’s paintings from display. At the same time, Beckmann was dismissed from his teaching position in Frankfurt, and moved to Berlin, a larger city where he could keep a lower profile. His successful career had been forcibly curtailed.

During this troubled period Beckmann painted his first triptych, Departure (1932–35). Begun while he was still living in Frankfurt and completed in Berlin, it is a visionary painting of the times to come. The side panels depict images of torture, suffering and horror, foreshadowing oppression under the Nazi regime. The central panel, in contrast, radiates hope and freedom. The figures are peacefully grouped together on a barge floating on a luminous blue sea. In the centre, a woman holds a child, which Beckmann identified as representing hope for the future; while a fisher king surveys the expanse of sea and their unknown fate.