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About the portfolio
Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.
In the portfolio Hölle (Hell), Max Beckmann journeys, Virgil-like, through Berlin. These ten oversize lithographs present an unflinching look at social disintegration and civil violence after the catastrophe of World War I. Beckmann visited Berlin in March 1919, and depicts himself amid the misery in Hölle; his self-portrait appears in five prints and on the front cover, which, in a handwritten note, promises the viewer an entertaining spectacle.
Unlike many of his compatriots, including the disfigured veteran he encounters in the first print, Der Nachhauseweg (The way home), Beckmann came back whole. He presents a fragmented city, with bodies jutting out of the pictures' frames and figures contorted in impossible spaces. In Die Strasse (The street), a thoroughfare is bustling with daytime activity, yet no one notices the man being carried off, arms flailing, by another man. In Das Martyrium (The martyrdom), under the cover of night, communist leader Rosa Luxemburg is about to be murdered. Speeches, songs, and even last stands are futile. No place is safe: Beckmann transforms an attic into a torture chamber in Die Nacht (Night), while quiet desperation pervades his own family's home in Der Hunger (Hunger). In the final print, Die Familie (The family), Beckmann's young son, Peter, mistakes a grenade for a toy. Beckmann brings the hell of war home in these prints. His publisher, J. B. Neumann, did not sell any when he exhibited them in 1919.
German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse
March 27–July 11, 2011
This portfolio's title describes the social disintegration and violence that gripped Berlin during the immediate postwar period. Beckmann captured the sense of chaos and claustrophobia through fragmented city views, compressed interiors, and contorted bodies that sometimes jut outside his pictures’ borders. His images are social and political allegories, many based on recent incidents, such as the January 1919 murder of Communist leader Rosa Luxemburg, pictured in The Martyrdom. Beckmann himself appears in five prints and on the portfolio cover.
In the first sheet, The Way Home, he encounters a disfigured war veteran on the street. In Night, Beckmann and his family are tortured by intruders in their attic. And in the final print, The Family, Beckmann's young son, Peter, mistakes a grenade for a toy.