Related themes

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 setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

An intaglio printmaking technique that creates sharp lines with fuzzy, velvety edges. A diamond-pointed needle is used to incise lines directly into a bare metal printing plate, displacing ridges of metal that adhere to the edges of the incised lines. This displaced metal is called burr. Inking fills the incised lines and clings to the burr. Damp paper is placed on the plate and run through a press, picking up the ink from the incised lines and the burr, resulting in a characteristically fuzzy line.

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

An intaglio printmaking technique that creates thin, fluid lines whose effects can vary from graceful and serpentine to tight and scratchy. An etching needle, a fine-pointed tool, is used to draw on a metal plate that has been coated with a thin layer of waxy ground, making an easy surface to draw though. When the plate is placed in acid, the ground protects the areas it still covers, while the drawn lines expose the plate and are incised, or “bitten,” by the acid. After removing the coating, the plate is inked, filling only the incised lines. Damp paper is placed on the plate and run through a press, forcing the paper into the incised lines to pick up the ink.


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