Max Beckmann, German (1884 - 1950)

Max Beckmann is widely acknowledged as one of Germany's leading twentieth-century artists. A figurative painter throughout his career, Beckmann depicted the world around him with an unparalleled intensity. His work emerges directly from his experiences of the First and Second World Wars, the political upheavals of the 1920s and 1930s, the rise of Nazism, exile in Amsterdam and his final emigration to the United States. By capturing the objects and events that surrounded him, Beckmann hoped to grasp the deeper mysteries underlying human existence. He perceived and painted the world as a vast stage, at once real and magical, upon which his own life and the traumas of contemporary history were closely intertwined.

Max Beckmann began his artistic studies in 1900-03 at the Art Academy in Weimar. In 1904, he moved to Berlin where he joined the Berlin Secession in 1907. In 1914, he helped found the Freie Sezession. When WWI began, he volunteered as a medical orderly in East Prussia. In 1915, he suffered a nervous breakdown and moved to Frankfurt. In 1925, he was included in the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Sobriety) exhibition at the Kunsthall Mannheim. In 1926, he had his first exhibition in America. From 1929-32, he spent his winters in Paris and a week each month in Frankfurt. In 1931, he had his first exhibition in Paris.

Within months of Hitlerís rise to power in 1933, Beckmann lost his teaching position at the Stadelschule in Frankfurt. In 1937, 590 works were removed from German museums and 9 works were included in the ìDegenerate Artî traveling exhibition. He moved to Berlin in search of anonymity but eventually emigrated to Holland. In 1940, he was invited to teach a summer semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago but the American Consulate refused his visa so he had to spend the War years in Amsterdam. In 1947, he taught at George Washington University in St. Louis. In 1949, he taught at the Art School of the University of Colorado, the School of the Brooklyn Museum and Mills College in Oakland, California. In December 1959 while walking to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to see the American Painting Todayexhibition, he died of a heart attack. His last self portrait was included in that show.

Beckmannís printmaking activity began in 1911 and continued uninterrupted until 1925 when it abruptly ended. His early works tend to be in an Expressionist style but his works from the 1920s reflect the Neue Sachlichkeit movement. He made 370 prints, most executed between 1922-23. The majority of his prints are drypoints or lithographs. He preferred these simpler techniques because he realized that the more complex the technique, the greater the separation between the artistic intention and the actual result. He produced only 19 woodcuts.

Beckmann continuously engaged with new artistic developments and was eager to compete with his peers. However, he refused to join any movement or group, cultivating the image of an isolated figure within the history of modern art. Nevertheless, his work after the First World War had strong affinities with German Expressionism and Cubism. During the 1920s Beckmann was regarded as a forerunner of New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), and a decade later incorporated abstract elements in his paintings. His ability to respond to artistic challenges ensured the continuing vitality of his art.

This retrospective provides a largely chronological overview of Beckmann's artistic career. It focuses on three pivotal periods: 1918-23, 1927-32 and the late 1930s into the 1940s. The first period reflects the impact of the First World War, during which Beckmann served as a medical orderly. By contrast, the second period is coloured by prosperity and public recognition. The final period is once again marked by the experience of war. Under the Nazi regime Beckmann was classified as a 'degenerate' artist and fled to Amsterdam in 1937. Even though this was a time of privation, isolation and anxiety, it was one of Beckmann's most productive periods. The exhibition ends with Beckmann in America, where, in the last three years of his life, he once again achieved widespread recognition as a major force in modern art.

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