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About the portfolio
Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.
The nineteen prints in Max Beckmann's portfolio Gesichter (Faces) do not present a narrative sequence but rather show flashes of life at different moments. Rendered in various sizes and formats and featuring a range of subjects, the images reflect the motley character of human existence: children play war games while bloody soldiers lie on operating-room tables; unattainable desire coexists with the empty pleasures of purchased love; people are bored and lonely, whether at home or in the city, alone or in the crowd. Beckmann, an active participant, appears in multiple self-portraits, including one at each the beginning and the end. Throughout the collection, the artist exaggerated facial features, distorted space, and took full advantage of the scratchy texture of drypoint lines for expressive effect.
Beckmann originally planned to publish two separate portfolios—one of wartime imagery and another, to be titled Welt-Theater (World theater), illustrating metropolitan life. Instead, Julius Meier-Graefe, an important critic and advocate for modern art, culled previously unpublished drypoints that Beckmann made between 1915 and 1918 and published this single portfolio. He also suggested the title. Gesicht has a range of meanings—face, sight, appearance, and vision—and is rich with literary associations, evoking in particular Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in which the term conveys the many facets of human existence.