Max Beckmann – The German Expressionist Painter, Printmaker, Drafter, Sculptor, and Writer

Born into a German middle class family on February 12, 1884, at Leipzig, Saxony, Max Beckmann was one of the most influential ‘Expressionist’ artists to come out of the early twentieth century Europe. This multi-talented personality was a painter, printmaker, drafter, sculptor, and writer. His father, a grain merchant, died when Max was only ten. Braving family opposition and a set, smug career path, the artist chose painting as his calling at the age of only fifteen.

In 1900, Max Beckmann joined the Grossherzogliche Sächsische Kunstschule (Weimar). The academy not only nurtured his talent, but also created the basic groundwork for his later ‘Expressionist’ works. This was also a turning point in his life, as he met his future wife, Minna Tube, here. He married her in 1906, and she bore their only child, Peter.

Painting continuously and discovering his own languag 4 d singapore e through a brisk use of thick, bold lines, and a profusion of stark images, Max Beckmann was already on his way to becoming an accomplished painter. He moved to Berlin and became a part of Berlin Secession, a ‘Modernist’ art movement in Europe. Max’s works shared space with renowned painters, such as Max Liebermann and Slevogt. His paintings, mostly self-portraits, carried with them the traces of the long gone era of ‘Impressionist’ glory. By 1910, he was such a successful artist that he was elected to the executive board of the Secession. This was an honor for an artist as young as Max, but was also a salute to the weight he carried in the rarefied art circles of German art. Soon however, he resigned, bored with the staid and artistically frustrating life of the board, preferring to go back to his beloved prints and canvas.

Beckmann’s pre war canvasses became bigger and mythical. This was a period of artistic growth, cut short by the World War – I. While serving as a medical volunteer in the army, the war took a heavy toll on the sensitive painter and he suffered a nervous breakdown. He was discharged to Frankfurt in 1915 to rest and recover. Perhaps mortified and affected by the horrors of the wars he saw, Beckmann’s paintings, when he started afresh in 1917, spoke of the shattering of the mythical, lyrical compositions. They took on a very sophisticated, albeit, harsh look. His colors choices became more intense and he veered closely towards the ‘Cubist’ school. Often his objects were distorted into sharp, angular shapes that took on an idiomatic life. Considered as one of the most ‘modern’ of European painters, Max Beckmann was also hailed as the father of a new school, which grew out of the old Expressionist tongue, the school of ‘New Objectivity.’ Since 1925, the artist started teaching at the Stadel School of Art, Frankfurt. He received the Honorary Empire Prize for German Art and the Gold Medal of the City of Dusseldorf in 1927.

Max’s works saw the worse in 1933, when Hitler, the hater of ‘Modern Art,’ labeled him as a “degenerate” artist, while also taking away his job at the art school. State repression forced his works out of circulation. In 1937, more than 500 of his works were defiled. It was the time of abject poverty, as Beckmann moved to a self-imposed exile in Amsterdam for ten years. Nazis thwarted his attempt to flee to the US, while he continued through his tedious and often a dangerous phase of painting. The efforts at his humiliation continued. The Nazis tried to draft a sixty-year-old Beckmann into the army in 1944. His anguish and anger poured out on the canvas, giving rise to a series of the most powerful Max Beckmann paintings ever unleashed. Soon after the war, he moved to the US and taught at several art schools of the University of Washington, St. Louis, and the Brooklyn Museum. He died peacefully on December 28, 1950. He left behind a rich legacy of works like the “Triptych” series, which not only are brilliant, but also defy any sort of categorization, the true mark of an artist!


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