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Artists Max Beckmann

Max Beckmann

German Painter, Printmaker, and Draftsman

Movements: Expressionism, New Objectivity

Born: February 21, 1884 - Leipzig, Germany

Died: December 27, 1950 - New York, New York, USA

Quotes

"...I would meander through all the sewers of the world, through degradations and humiliations, in order to paint. I have to do this. Until the last drop every vision that exists in my being must be purged; then it will be a pleasure for me to be rid of this damned torture."
Max Beckmann
"I believe that essentially I love painting so much because it forces me to be objective. There is nothing I hate more than sentimentality. The stronger my determination grows to grasp the unutterable things of this world, the deeper and more powerful the emotion burning inside me about our existence, the tighter I try to keep my mouth shut and the harder I try to capture the terrible thrilling monster of life's vitality and to confine it, to beat it down and to strangle it with crystal clear, razor-sharp lines and planes..."
Max Beckmann
"The artist in the contemporary sense is the conscious shaper of the transcendent idea. He is at one and the same time that shaper and the vessel."
Max Beckmann
"all theory and all matters of principle in painting are hateful to me."
Max Beckmann
"What I want to show in my work is the idea that hides itself behind so-called reality. I am seeking the bridge that leads from the visible to the invisible..."
Max Beckmann
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"My heart beats more for a rougher, commoner, more vulgar art...one that offers direct access to the terrible, the crude, the magnificent, the ordinary, the grotesque and the banal in life. An art that can always be right there for us, in the realest things of life."

Synopsis

After enduring a "great injury to his soul" during World War I, Max Beckmann channeled his experience of modern life into expressive images that haunt the viewer with their intensity of emotion and symbolism. Despite his early leanings toward academicism and Expressionism, he became one of the main artists associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement and created scathing visual critiques of the tumultuous interwar period. In later works, Beckmann strove toward open-ended stories that juxtaposed scenes from reality, dreams, myths, and fables. Throughout his career, he firmly opposed the turn toward abstract art and maintained his desire to "get hold of the magic of reality and to transfer this reality into painting." Beckmann's prowess at subtly layering figures and signs, as well as color and shadow, allowed him to successfully translate his reality into mesmerizing narrative paintings throughout his prolific career.

Key Ideas

Beckmann was a medical officer during World War I, an experience that instigated a drastic shift in his artistic style away from a traditional, academic technique towards a more critically engaged and expressive style of painting.
Beckmann deftly combined allegorical figures and images from reality in artworks rife with semiotic play that conveyed his individual interpretation of the cultural, social, and political climate throughout his career.
Beckmann was preoccupied by the desire for thorough self-knowledge and, in this pursuit, executed over 85 self-portraits in a variety of media. This continued refinement of self-representation underlined his firm, lifelong belief in the importance of the autonomy of artists and their visions of the world.
Beckmann experimented with the format of a triptych, or three-paneled painting. He translated the antiquated format, previously used only for medieval religious paintings, into the ideal support for his modern secular allegories.

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Most Important Art

Self Portrait in Tuxedo (1927)
Throughout the course of his career, Beckmann completed over 85 self-portraits. His continued practice of self-representation underlines the significance he placed upon the individual and the exploration of the inner self. Here, Beckmann presented the public with an image of a self-possessed artist, confident and proud of his career and ability. He easily conveyed the self-assurance of an artist at the height of his success through the casual pose, expression of indifference, and fashionable garb. Created at the pinnacle of his career in Germany, Beckmann situated himself centrally within the painting, and visually confronts the viewer head-on, staring right through him. The composition is structured by vertical and horizontal planes, as opposed the jarring diagonals of his earlier works, which adds to the air of stability and certainty of the overall work. The dominance of black and white not only add to the severity of the work, but also allude to the continued, eternal drama of the creation and recreation of the world in art. The straight lines, simplified forms, and areas of sharp contrast are typical of his work at this time and lend a harsh elegance to the painting. Beckmann illustrated his belief that artists were "of vital significance to the state" and "new priests of a new cultural center" in this self-portrait. Despite the calm conveyed by the artist's expression, the deep shadows provide the work with an air of foreboding. The contrast between the assurance of the artist and the sense of impending unrest resulted in a dynamic tension that Beckmann sought to portray within all of his work and which fueled the strength of his symbolism during the 1930s and 1940s.
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Biography

Childhood

Max Beckmann was born and raised in Leipzig, Germany, the youngest of three children in an upper-middle class family. His father, Carl Beckmann, was a grain merchant who passed away in 1894. His mother, Antoine Beckmann, relocated the family to Braunschweig, where Max lived with his mother and brother for the next several years. He attended a few private educational institutions, including a boarding school run by a Protestant minister from which he infamously ran away when he was ten.

Max showed an early interest in art, often disrupting class by making sketches and passing them among the students. His earliest self-portrait dates to around 1898 when he was just a teenager and demonstrates how dedicated Beckmann was to the visual arts at an early age. He was intent on pursuing a career in art and, despite his family members' protestations, applied to the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste (The Academy of Fine Arts) in Dresden in 1898, but failed to gain entrance.

Early Training

Despite the initial impasse in Dresden, Beckmann entered the Grossherzoglich-Sachsische Kunstschule Weimar (Weimar-Saxon Grand Ducal Art Academy) in 1900. Beckmann studied primarily under Carl Frithjof Smith, a Norwegian realist painter who instilled in him a penchant for the authentic representation of reality. The academy granted him a diploma with honors in 1902, and the following year he left Weimar for his first of many trips to Paris. While there, he encountered the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists firsthand. In particular, the works of Paul Cézanne left a deep impression on him.

Beckmann returned to Germany in 1904 and moved to Berlin, where he lived until the beginning of World War I. Paintings from this early period, such as Young Men by the Sea (1905), demonstrate the influence of the Paris visit upon his work, as evidenced by the light palette and careful arrangement of figures within the picture plane. Beckmann received an award from the German Artists' League for Young Men by the Sea that provided him with a six-month stay at the Villa Romana in Florence. While abroad, Beckmann also developed an admiration for the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and the dramatic styles of Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch, and his works shifted to an Expressionistic style as seen in Small Death Scene (1906). In 1906, he first exhibited with the Berlin Secession - a group founded by young, modern artists to counter the more conservative state-run art establishment.

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Max Beckmann Biography Continues

In the fall of 1906, Beckmann married Minna Tube, a fellow artist whom he courted while at the Academy in Weimar. That same year, Beckmann also built a professional relationship with Paul Cassirer, a leading dealer of modern art in Berlin and a Secession board member. Cassirer held a large solo exhibition of Beckmann's work and also published the first monograph about him in 1913. Throughout this period, his work was dominated by large narrative scenes. By painting the external world as he viewed it, Beckmann consciously positioned himself in opposition to the abstraction advocated by Der Blaue Reiter artists like Franz Marc.

Beckmann volunteered for the army at the start of World War I in 1914. Trained as a medical orderly, he worked in various hospitals until he was discharged in 1915 after suffering a nervous breakdown on the Belgian front. He moved to Frankfurt and resumed his artistic pursuits. His experiences of death and violence during the war had a profound impact upon his art, as seen in the awkward, twisted figures of Adam and Eve (1917) - one of the first paintings completed during his recuperation after service. The heavy, elongated lines and claustrophobic space that characterized Beckmann's new style received tepid reviews from critics.

Mature Period

Max Beckmann Biography

In August of 1918, Beckmann drafted a manifesto of sorts, in which he clarified his ideas regarding the contemporaneous tumult and indicated his intention to "be part of all the misery that is coming." He frequently used his art to engage with political, social, and economic issues plaguing post-war Germany, particularly in the context of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement, which critically depicted the instability of Germany after World War I. Beckmann was widely recognized as one of the leaders of the movement and featured prominently in Gustav Hartlaub's 1925 exhibition survey at the Kunsthalle Mannheim.

Beckmann and Tube lived separately after the war and eventually divorced amicably in 1925. He married Mathilde "Quappi" von Kaulbach, a young opera singer, the same year and accepted a teaching position at the Stadel Art School in Frankfurt. Throughout the 1920s, Beckmann's work featured regularly in exhibitions around Germany and Europe, including a large retrospective at the Stadtische Kunsthalle in Mannheim during 1928. By this time, his style fluently incorporated elements from his earlier painting such as Adam and Eve (1917), but in more vivid, expressive colors. Neumann sponsored his first exhibition in the United States in 1926, and Alfred Barr, the first director of the Museum of Modern Art, included six of Beckmann's paintings in a group show in New York in 1931.

After Hitler's appointment as chancellor of Germany in 1933, Beckmann received notice of his dismissal from the Stadel School, and his paintings were removed from display in German museums. He left Frankfurt and returned to Berlin that same year. In the midst of an increasingly hostile atmosphere toward modern art within Germany, Beckmann created Departure (1937), the first of his famed triptychs. Beckmann and his wife, Quappi, moved to Amsterdam that year, the same day that the Nazi-sponsored Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibit denigrating modern art opened in Munich. Beckmann never returned to Germany, and remained in exile for the rest of his life.

Late Years and Death

Beckmann lived in Amsterdam throughout the war and remained incredibly productive despite his displacement, executing numerous paintings, prints, and drawings. He received an offer for a teaching position at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis in August of 1947. Crossing the Atlantic with Quappi, Beckmann settled in St. Louis later that year. During the summers, he taught in Oakland, California, and Boulder, Colorado, and enjoyed the opportunity to tour the American countryside. He left St. Louis in 1949, when he was offered a position on the faculty of the Brooklyn Museum Art School. He and Quappi moved to New York City that fall. In December of 1950, Beckmann died of a heart attack while walking to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see his Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket (1950) on display, only one day after he finished his final painting, Argonauts (1950).


Legacy

Max Beckmann Photo

Beckmann's extraordinary artistic development throughout the two World Wars left an enduring legacy. As a teacher, his stress upon the importance of personal narrative was an abiding lesson for his students, both in America and Europe. Outside of his teaching practice, Beckmann's close proximity to many other artists throughout his career allowed for the exchange of influences among colleagues. Some of the earlier artists who were affected by Beckmann's oeuvre were his compatriots among the Neue Sachlichkeit movement, like George Grosz and Otto Dix. These artists shared their ideas regarding politics and art, each having a lasting impact on the others. As a teacher of young artists in America, Beckmann had a lasting and far-reaching impact. The Color Field painter Ellsworth Kelly was one of Beckmann's students and, despite stylistic differences, acknowledged an artistic debt to his mentor in a catalogue essay decades later. Although Beckmann replaced Philip Guston as an art teacher at Washington University, Guston learned much from the German expatriate's sensuous application of paint and stark narrative style.

The prominence of Beckmann's works within American museum collections further extended his impact on subsequent generations of artists. Portraitists working during the late twentieth century, like Alice Neel, clearly encountered his work and were stylistically indebted to Beckmann's unrelenting representations of sitters, particularly in respect to his use of hard outlines, his application of vibrant colors, and his frank portrayals of his subjects. Additionally, socially conscious artists like Leon Golub and William Kentridge also owe a debt to Beckmann's expressive technique as well as his interest in critically portraying the reality of his time in paint.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Max Beckmann
Interactive chart with Max Beckmann's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Paul Cézanne
Eugène Delacroix
Edvard Munch

Friends

George Grosz
Otto Dix

Movements

Impressionism
Symbolism
Romanticism
Max Beckmann
Max Beckmann
Years Worked: 1904-1950

Artists

Philip Guston
Jackson Pollock
Leon Golub

Friends

George Grosz
Otto Dix

Movements

Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
Modernism and Modern Art



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Useful Resources on Max Beckmann

Books
Websites
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The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
written by artist
Self-Portrait in Words: Collected Writings and Statements, 1903-1950

By Max Beckmann and Barbara Copeland Buenger

On My Painting

By Max Beckmann

paintings
Max Beckmann and the Self

By Wendy Beckett

Max Beckmann

By Susanne Bieber, et al.

More Interesting Books about Max Beckmann
Vampires, Ghosts Haunted Max Beckmann During N.Y. Exile

By Catherine Hickley
Business Week
December 11, 2011

Chuckling Darkly at Disaster

By Michael Kimmelman
New York Times
June 27, 2003

The Fatalist

By Jonathan Jones
The Guardian
January 30, 2003

Grim Visions

By James Graff
Time
September 29, 2002

More Interesting Articles about Max Beckmann
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Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism is a broad term for a host of movements in early twentieth-century Germany and beyond, from Die Brücke (1905) and Der Blaue Reiter (1911) to the early Neue Sachlichkeit painters in the 1920s and '30s. Many Expressionists used vivid colors and abstracted forms to create spiritually or psychologically intense works, while others focused on depictions of war, alienation, and the modern city.
TheArtStory: Expressionism
New Objectivity
New Objectivity
New Objectivity
New Objectivity, or Neue Sachlichkeit, was a style of German art that emerged in the 1920s in reaction to the more irrational tone of pre-WWI Expressionism. Some artists associated with it, such as Otto Dix, were savagely satirical and critical of society, while others evolved a cool and classical style that echoes many other European art movements at this time.
New Objectivity
Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
TheArtStory: Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.
TheArtStory: Post-Impressionism
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
TheArtStory: Paul Cézanne
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch painter, commonly associated with the Post-Impressionist period. As one of the most prolific and experimental artists of his time, van Gogh was a spontaneous painter and a master of color and perspective. Troubled by personal demons all his life, many historians speculate that van Gogh suffered from a Bipolar disorder.
TheArtStory: Vincent van Gogh
Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch
Norweigan painter and printmaker Edvard Munch was a pioneer of the German Expressionist movement. His works such as The Scream explored deeply psychological concepts in a Symbolist style.
TheArtStory: Edvard Munch
Der Blaue Reiter
Der Blaue Reiter
Der Blaue Reiter
Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) was a group of Expressionist painters in Munich, Germany consisting principally of Wassily Kandinsky, Alexej von Jawlensky,Germans Auguste Macke, and Franz Marc. Key interests among them were the aesthetics of primitivism and spiritualism, as well as growing trends in Fauvism and Cubism, which led Kandinsky, chief among the Expressionist artists, to experiment more with abstract art.
TheArtStory: Der Blaue Reiter
Franz Marc
Franz Marc
Franz Marc
Franz Marc was a German painter and printmaker, and one of the pioneers of German Expressionism. Along with August Macke and Kandinksy, Marc founded The Blue Rider artist group. A student of Futurism and Cubism, Marc was a master of color and depth, and a major influence on mid-twentieth-century abstractionists.
TheArtStory: Franz Marc
George Grosz
George Grosz
George Grosz
George Grosz was a German Dada and Neue Sachlichkeit artist. He was enamored of America and highly critical of Weimar society. Grosz immigrated to the United States just as Hitler came to power and opened a private art school in Des Moines.
TheArtStory: George Grosz
Otto Dix
Otto Dix
Otto Dix
Otto Dix is one of modern painting's most savage satirists. After many artists had abandoned portraiture for abstraction in the 1910s, Dix injected sharp caricatures into his pictures of some of the leading lights of German society. His other narrative subjects are remembered for their indictment of corrupt and immoral life in the modern city.
TheArtStory: Otto Dix
Color Field Painting
Color Field Painting
Color Field Painting
A tendency within Abstract Expressionism, distinct from gestural abstraction, Color Field painting was developed by Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still in the late 1940s, and developed further by Helen Frankenthaler and others. It is characterized by large fields of color and an absence of any figurative motifs, and often expresses a yearning for transcendence and the infinite.
TheArtStory: Color Field Painting
Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly is an American Color Field and Hard edge painter. Kelly got his start in the late 1950s with showings at the Betty Parsons Gallery and the Whitney Museum. His work often consists of shaped canvases, simple geometric shapes, and large panels of uniform color.
TheArtStory: Ellsworth Kelly
Philip Guston
Philip Guston
Philip Guston
Initially associated with the New York School of abstract art, Guston famously abandoned pure abstraction in the 1950s and turned to figurative art and quasi-abstract cartoon imagery. His later work, for which he is best known, was a major influence on the development of Neo-Expressionism in the U.S.
TheArtStory: Philip Guston
Leon Golub
Leon Golub
Leon Golub
Leon Golub was a twentieth-century American painter and the husband of artist Nancy Spero. While Golub's paintings were mostly figural, his subjects often evoked a sculptural quality reminiscent of Ancient Greek and Roman techniques. The artist's later work assumed the characteristics of Neo-Expressionism, which gained favor in the 1980s.
Leon Golub
William Kentridge
William Kentridge
William Kentridge
William Kentridge is a South African animator, cartoonist, and mixed-media artist. He is perhaps best known for his politically-charged animated films, which are comprised of drawings that have been erased and re-drafted dozens of times and spliced together in a stop-motion type of media. Above all, Kentridge is among the most prolific and meticulous mixed-media artists in the postmodern era.
William Kentridge
Eugène Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix's powerfully depicted love, war, and human sensuality, earning the artist both praise and controversy in his time. His preoccupation with color-induced optical effects and use of expressive brushstrokes were crucial influences on Impressionism and Pointillism.
TheArtStory: Eugène Delacroix
Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism is an artistic and literary movement that first emerged in France in the 1880s. In the visual arts it is often considered part of Post-Impressionism. It is characterized by an emphasis on the mystical, romantic and expressive, and often by the use of symbolic figures.
TheArtStory: Symbolism
Romanticism
Romanticism
Romanticism
Romanticism was a nineteenth-century movement that celebrated the powers of emotion and intuition over rational analysis or classical ideals. Romantic artists emphasized awe, beauty, and the sublime in their works, which frequently charted the darker or chaotic sides of human life.
Romanticism
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
TheArtStory: Jackson Pollock
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
TheArtStory: Abstract Expressionism
Modernism and Modern Art
Modernism and Modern Art
Modernism and Modern Art
Modernism in Art is an approach to art making that promoted the new and industrial world, free from derivation and historical references. And for the new to be possible, old movements were often altogether abandoned, or deconstructed.
TheArtStory: Modernism and Modern Art
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