At the outbreak of the Second World War, Beckmann was offered a teaching position at an American university, but the US Consul in The Hague refused his application for a visa. He remained in Amsterdam for the duration of the war, but in 1945 renewed his efforts to emigrate.

Finally, having received an offer to teach at the Washington University Art School in St Louis, Beckmann and Quappi boarded the liner Westerdam in August 1947, and left Europe for America. The painting Cabins (1948), reflects Beckmann's experience of crossing the Atlantic, but more generally can be seen as an evocation of the myriad dramas of human life. In the foreground a sailor is clasping a huge fish, symbol of man's passions and of the spirit; behind him, in the boat's cabins, we glimpse snatches of life in all its variety, including people mourning a dead body, a vision of an angel, and an artist at work – perhaps Beckmann's female alter-ego.