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
© 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Drawings and Prints

Installation views

We have identified these works in the following photos from our exhibition history.

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).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, 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].