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German Expressionism

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Max Beckmann

German, 1884–1950

Starr Figura, German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 2011

Painter, printmaker. Known for probing the human condition in portraits, self-portraits, and enigmatic, allegorical tableaus. Emerged in Berlin in early 1910s working in late Impressionist manner. Joined medical corps during World War I. Served in Belgium, where he met Erich Heckel. Discharged after nervous breakdown in 1915. Although he had publicly criticized Franz Marc and the Blaue Reiter’s impulse toward abstraction and spirituality in 1912, harrowing experience of war led him to incorporate strategies of distortion, angularity, and exaggerated color. After war, settled in Frankfurt, but maintained ties to Berlin art circles. Focused on urban themes, especially disaffection of postwar society, and often depicted life as a theater or circus in tightly compressed compositions, which he sometimes elaborated in portfolio format. In mid-1920s compositions became less crowded and more naturalistic.

Made a total of 373 prints, all black and white, with printmaking a major focus between 1914 and 1923. Preferred the scratchy texture of etching and drypoint, but also worked in lithography; made only nineteen woodcuts. Most were issued by leading dealer-publishers, including Paul Cassirer and J. B. Neumann, in Berlin, and Reinhard Piper, in Munich.

More than five hundred works removed from public collections by Nazis in 1937. Waited out World War II in Amsterdam, then assumed teaching positions in St. Louis and New York.

Selected Bibliography

Hofmaier, James. Max Beckmann: Catalogue Raisonné of His Prints. 2 vols. Bern: Kornfeld, 1990.

Long, Rose-Carol Washton, and Maria Makela, eds. Of ‘Truths Impossible to Put in Words’: Max Beckmann Contextualized. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2008.

Schulz-Hoffmann, Carla, and Judith C. Weiss, eds. Max Beckmann: Retrospective. Exh. cat., St. Louis Museum of Art. Munich: Prestel, 1984.

Storr, Robert, ed. Max Beckmann. Exh. cat. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2003.

Weitman, Wendy, and James L. Fisher. Max Beckmann: Prints from The Museum of Modern Art. Exh. cat. New York:The Museum of Modern Art, 1992.

Heather Hess

Works by Max Beckmann

  • Not on view Max Beckmann. Orpheus before Pluto and Proserpina (Orpheus vor Pluto und Proserpina) from the illustrated book Eurydikes Wiederkehr, Drei Gesänge (The Return of Eurydice, Three Cantos). (1909)
    Max Beckmann
    Orpheus before Pluto and Proserpina (Orpheus vor...
    (1909)
    Max Beckmann. Orpheus before Pluto and Proserpina (Orpheus vor Pluto und Proserpina) from the illustrated book Eurydikes Wiederkehr, Drei Gesänge (The Return of Eurydice, Three Cantos). (1909)
  • Not on view Max Beckmann. The Departure of Orpheus from his Mother (Abschied Orpheus' von der Mutter) from the illustrated book Eurydikes Wiederkehr, Drei Gesänge (The Return of Eurydice, Three Cantos). (1909)
    Max Beckmann
    The Departure of Orpheus from his Mother (Abschied...
    (1909)
    Max Beckmann. The Departure of Orpheus from his Mother (Abschied Orpheus' von der Mutter) from the illustrated book Eurydikes Wiederkehr, Drei Gesänge (The Return of Eurydice, Three Cantos). (1909)
  • Not on view Max Beckmann. Orpheus at the Shore II (Orpheus am Meer II) from the illustrated book Eurydikes Wiederkehr, Drei Gesänge (The Return of Eurydice, Three Cantos). (1909)
    Max Beckmann
    Orpheus at the Shore II (Orpheus am Meer II)...
    (1909)
    Max Beckmann. Orpheus at the Shore II (Orpheus am Meer II) from the illustrated book Eurydikes Wiederkehr, Drei Gesänge (The Return of Eurydice, Three Cantos). (1909)
  • Not on view Max Beckmann. Self-Portrait (Selbstbildnis). (1911)
    Max Beckmann
    Self-Portrait (Selbstbildnis)
    (1911)
    Max Beckmann. Self-Portrait (Selbstbildnis). (1911)
  • Not on view Max Beckmann. Christ in the Desert (Large Figure) (Christus in der Wüste [Grosse Figur])  from Six Lithographs to the New Testament (Sechs Lithographien zum Neuen Testament). (1911)
    Max Beckmann
    Christ in the Desert (Large Figure) (Christus in...
    (1911)
    Max Beckmann. Christ in the Desert (Large Figure) (Christus in der Wüste [Grosse Figur])  from Six Lithographs to the New Testament (Sechs Lithographien zum Neuen Testament). (1911)
  • Not on view Max Beckmann. The Baptism of Christ (Taufe Christi) from Six Lithographs to the New Testament (Sechs Lithographien zum Neuen Testament). (1911)
    Max Beckmann
    The Baptism of Christ (Taufe Christi) from...
    (1911)
    Max Beckmann. The Baptism of Christ (Taufe Christi) from Six Lithographs to the New Testament (Sechs Lithographien zum Neuen Testament). (1911)
  • Not on view Max Beckmann. Christ and the Sinner (Christus und die Sünderin) from Six Lithographs to the New Testament (Sechs Lithographien zum Neuen Testament). (1911)
    Max Beckmann
    Christ and the Sinner (Christus und die...
    (1911)
    Max Beckmann. Christ and the Sinner (Christus und die Sünderin) from Six Lithographs to the New Testament (Sechs Lithographien zum Neuen Testament). (1911)
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