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Max Beckmann

German Painter, Printmaker, and Draftsman

Max Beckmann Photo
Movements and Styles: Expressionism, New Objectivity

Born: February 21, 1884 - Leipzig, Germany

Died: December 27, 1950 - New York, New York, USA

"My heart beats more for a rougher, commoner, more vulgar art...one that offers direct access to the terrible, the crude, the magnificent, the ordinary, the grotesque and the banal in life. An art that can always be right there for us, in the realest things of life."

Max Beckmann Signature

Summary of Max Beckmann

After enduring a "great injury to his soul" during World War I, Max Beckmann channeled his experience of modern life into expressive images that haunt the viewer with their intensity of emotion and symbolism. Despite his early leanings toward academicism and Expressionism, he became one of the main artists associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement and created scathing visual critiques of the tumultuous interwar period. In later works, Beckmann strove toward open-ended stories that juxtaposed scenes from reality, dreams, myths, and fables. Throughout his career, he firmly opposed the turn toward abstract art and maintained his desire to "get hold of the magic of reality and to transfer this reality into painting." Beckmann's prowess at subtly layering figures and signs, as well as color and shadow, allowed him to successfully translate his reality into mesmerizing narrative paintings throughout his prolific career.

Key Ideas

Beckmann was a medical officer during World War I, an experience that instigated a drastic shift in his artistic style away from a traditional, academic technique towards a more critically engaged and expressive style of painting.
Beckmann deftly combined allegorical figures and images from reality in artworks rife with semiotic play that conveyed his individual interpretation of the cultural, social, and political climate throughout his career.
Beckmann was preoccupied by the desire for thorough self-knowledge and, in this pursuit, executed over 85 self-portraits in a variety of media. This continued refinement of self-representation underlined his firm, lifelong belief in the importance of the autonomy of artists and their visions of the world.
Beckmann experimented with the format of a triptych, or three-paneled painting. He translated the antiquated format, previously used only for medieval religious paintings, into the ideal support for his modern secular allegories.
Max Beckmann Photo

Max Beckmann was born and raised in Leipzig, Germany, the youngest of three children in an upper-middle-class family. His father, Carl Beckmann, was a grain merchant who passed away in 1894. His mother, Antoine Beckmann, relocated the family to Braunschweig, where Max lived with his mother and brother for the next several years. He attended a few private educational institutions, including a boarding school run by a Protestant minister from which he infamously ran away when he was ten.

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