Hell conjures the nightmare of social disintegration and violence that gripped Berlin after the end of World War I. Using fragmented city views, compressed interiors, and contorted bodies to convey chaos and claustrophobia, Beckmann composed each scene like a stage set. “If one comprehends . . . the entire war or even all of life only as a scene in the theater,” he wrote, “everything is much easier to bear.” The artist depicts himself in several prints, including The Family, in which his young son Peter mistakes a grenade for a toy. Other images were based on recent incidents, including the January 1919 arrest and murder of the Communist leader Karl Liebknecht, pictured in the foreground of The Street.
Gallery label from 2023