In this portfolio, made three years after the revolutionary upheavals of 1919, Berlin is a city of disillusioned people quietly resigned to their fates. The rich play cards, attend the theater, and while away the hours in boredom. The poor beg on the street and enjoy the momentary distractions of a dive. Beckmann compressed his scenes into tight, windowlike frames that barely contain their inhabitants, creating a sense of claustrophobia and discord. He lived in Frankfurt but visited the capital in 1922 to create these prints, which he conceived as a sequel to his portfolio Hell (1919).
Gallery label from German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, March 27–July 11, 2011.
As depicted in Max Beckmann’s portfolio Berliner Reise 1922 (Trip to Berlin 1922), in the years just after revolutionary upheavals following Germany’s defeat in World War I, Berlin is a city of disillusioned people quietly resigned to their fates. Neither politics nor sex can rouse any interest. The rich play cards, attend the theater, and while away the hours in boredom. The poor beg on the street, sleep in cramped quarters, and enjoy the momentary distractions of a dive bar.
In these prints, Beckmann chronicles the many sides of life in the capital of the new Republic. Emphasizing the claustrophobic and discordant, he compresses scenes in tight, windowlike frames that barely contain the figures that fill them. By contrast, he depicts himself alone in three self-portraits, as an outsider who observes but does not participate, arriving in the city with suitcase in hand, sitting in his hotel room, and, as a chimneysweep in the final print, surveying the city in the new dawn.
Beckmann conceived of this series as a sequel and moral complement to Hölle (Hell), his 1919 portfolio of postwar Berlin. He visited Berlin in early 1922, and by April the lithographs were ready for printing. Pleased, he wrote to publisher J. B. Neumann: “I think it ended up being a good and actually quite amusing thing.”
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.