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Expressionist Depictions of War

German Expressionists, many of whom fought in World War I, depicted the shattering experience of war.


The Grenade (Die Granate)

Max Beckmann
(German, 1884–1950)

1918. Drypoint, plate: 15 5/16 x 11 3/8" (38.9 x 28.9 cm); sheet (irreg.): 21 1/4 x 17 11/16" (54 x 45 cm)

An explosive in the top right of The Grenade is the epicenter for a burst of energy that spreads chaos throughout the scene. Smoke billows and figures topple in gestures of pain and panic. The flattened perspective pushes the figures to the edges of the composition, where they remained trapped.

Before World War I, Max Beckmann did not appreciate the Expressionist’s use of color and abstraction to convey an inner world. After he was released from the army in 1915, the year this print was made, he began to experiment with their printmaking techniques—especially drypoints  and etching—as a way to communicate his wartime experiences. He wrote, “What is important to me in my work is the identity that is hidden behind so-called reality. I search for a bridge from the given present to the invisible, rather as a famous cabalist once said, ‘If you wish to grasp the invisible, penetrate as deeply as possible into the visible.’”<sup>1</sup>

"Twentieth-Century German Art," London, 21 July 1938; as quoted in ”Max Beckmann,” Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 77

A type of intaglio printmaking process that involves using an abrasive or sharp-pointed tool to scratch lines into the surface of a metal plate. The term may also refer to the process or to the tool used.

In art, a technique used to depict volumes and spatial relationships on a flat surface, as in a painted scene that appears to extend into the distance.

A type of print made by scratching marks onto the surface of a metal plate (usually copper, zinc, or steel) that has been treated with an acid-resistant waxy ground. When the plate is placed into a vat of acid, the acid bites through the exposed portions of the plate. The plate is inked, and an image is created by running the plate and paper through a printing press.

Multimedia

AUDIO: Curator Starr Figura discusses Max Beckmann’s Self-Portrait with a Cigarette