Max Beckmann. Self-Portrait in Bowler Hat (Selbstbildnis mit steifem Hut). 1921, published c. 1922

Max Beckmann Self-Portrait in Bowler Hat (Selbstbildnis mit steifem Hut) 1921, published c. 1922

  • Not on view

Max Beckmann was among the foremost painters of the modern period, known for his enigmatic allegorical compositions illustrating the trials and tribulations of the human condition. Although he began his career working in a theatrical Post-Impressionist style, Beckmann's harrowing experience as a medical orderly in World War I transformed his art into one of compressed angular arrangements, peopled with the disaffected and disenfranchised of Germany's postwar society. In biblical scenes, crowded café pictures, circus tableaux, and self-portraits, he reflected the unrelenting anxiety and alienation he perceived in modern life.

Beckmann completed more than three hundred seventy prints, the vast majority between the years 1915 and 1924. He began his prolific career with lithography. Just before the war, however, he discovered that drypoint, which enabled him to create staccato marks and scratchy textures, matched his nervous, agitated state. Working without the aid of preliminary drawings, he attacked the plates directly, often pulling proofs on his personal press before sending the plates to be editioned. Although he essentially divided his printmaking between lithography and drypoint, Beckmann also tried his hand at woodcut. He completed only nineteen but their bold contrasts, abrupt croppings, and disengaged gazes make them among his most powerful graphic statements on the theme of isolation in the modern urban environment.

Beckmann's early successes as a painter attracted some of Germany's leading publishers, including Reinhard Piper in Munich and J. B. Neumann in Berlin, who commissioned the artist's major print portfolios. The series format provided Beckmann with the perfect vehicle to explore his allegorical narratives. In Night from the portfolio Hell he portrays the violence and decadence surrounding the Berlin riots of November 1918 and the founding of the Weimar Republic. With Mannerist distortion and foreshortened perspective he depicts the horrific scene in a stagelike setting, implicating the viewer as the audience of this ugly spectacle.

Publication excerpt from an essay by Wendy Weitman, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 88.
plate: 12 11/16 x 9 3/4" (32.3 x 24.8 cm); sheet: 21 1/8 x 16 1/2" (53.7 x 41.9 cm)
J. B. Neumann, Berlin
approx. 50
Gift of Edward M. M. Warburg
Object number
© 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Drawings and Prints

Installation views

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].