Hermann Max Pechstein



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Hermann Max Pechstein (* 31 December 1881 in Zwickau; † 29 June 1955 in West Berlin) was a German painter, graphic artist, and for a time a member of the artists’ association “Brücke”. Pechstein was a representative of German Expressionism.

Max Pechstein’s education and early work

Max Pechstein was born in Zwickau on 31 December 1881. In 1896, he began an apprenticeship as a stage painter, which he completed in 1900. This was followed by studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Dresden. He transferred to the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden, where he became a master student of Otto Gussmann. After completing his studies in 1906, he joined the artists’ group “Brücke”. In the group, he was the only painter to receive a complete academic education. In this environment, his expressionist style developed further, intending to work out the core of each motif through a well-dosed use of painterly means.

After a trip to Paris, where he made the acquaintance of Kees van Dogen, the artist moved to Berlin in 1908. Two years later he was a founding member and president of the artists’ association Neue Secession. During a visit to Georg Kolbe’s studio, Pechstein met Charlotte (Lotte) Kaprolat, who became an important model for him from 1909 to 1920.

Max Pechstein and Charlotte Kaprolat married in 1911. In the same year, Pechstein and Kirchner founded the MUIM Institute (Modern Instruction in Painting). The artist took part in the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne in 1912 and at the same time left the “Brücke”.

Pechstein in the South Seas

In 1914, the artist traveled to the South Pacific region and became a Japanese prisoner of war. He returned to Berlin in 1915 and was drafted for military service on the Western Front. He processed these experiences in travel pictures and lithographs, as well as in etchings.

After the end of the First World War, Pechstein co-founded the “Arbeitsrat für Kunst” (Working Council for Art) in 1918, which lasted until 1921. In the same year, the artists’ association “November-Gruppe” was founded, of which he became a member. In 1922, he was appointed a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts.

Family formation and “inner emigration”

He divorced his wife Lotte in 1921. Two years later, he married Martha Möller, who gave birth to their son Max in 1926. When the National Socialists seized power in 1933, he was banned from painting and exhibiting. He withdrew further and further into “inner emigration”. In 1937, he was expelled from the Prussian Academy of Arts and the Nazi regime confiscated 326 of his works. In July of the same year, 16 of his paintings were defamed in the exhibition “Degenerate Art”. His Berlin flat and with it a large part of his works are destroyed by the effects of war in 1944. In 1945, he was occupied by the Red Army in Pomerania and became a Russian prisoner of war. In the same year, the artist returned to Berlin, where he became a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts.

Honours of Pechstein after the Second World War

The city of Zwickau made Max Pechstein an honorary citizen in 1947. The Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin did the same in 1951. In 1952 the Federal Republic of Germany awarded the artist the Grand Order of Merit. This was followed in 1954 by the Art Prize of the City of Berlin. Max Pechstein died in Berlin on 29 June 1955.

Artistic style

Pechstein’s motifs show a love of detail. While he used aggressive colour contrasts in his early work, his painting style became more narrative in the 1920s and the colourfulness of his pictures is now more delicately modeled and more richly graded. It is striking that Pechstein holds a pipe in his mouth in 23 of the 29 self-portraits he made of himself in the course of his life. Whether it is smoking happily, has gone out, or is hanging down in resignation – from this, we can read how the artist was doing in the respective phase.


1896/1900 – Apprenticeship as a stage painter.

1900/1903 – Studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule, Dresden.

1906 – Member of the artist group “Brücke”.

1907 – Acquaintance with Kees van Dongen in Paris.

1908 – Move to Berlin.

1910 – Founding member of the “Neue Secession”, Berlin. Acquaintance with Franz Marc and August Macke.

1911 – Marries Charlotte Kaprolat. Founds the MUIM Institute (Institute for Modern Painting) together with Kirchner.

1912 – Participates in the Sonderbund exhibition, Cologne. Leaves the artists’ group “Brücke”.

1913 – Birth of his first son, Frank.

1914 – Trip to the South Pacific and prisoner of war in Nagasaki.

1915/16 – Return to Berlin. Military service.

1918 – Founding member of the “November Group” and the “Working Council for Art”, Berlin.

1921 – Divorce from his wife Lotte.

1922 – Member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, Berlin. Deputy Professor.

1923 – Marries Martha Möller

1926 – Birth of his second son, Max.

1937 – Exclusion from the Academy. 326 works were confiscated by the Nazi regime.

1945 – Prisoner of war in Russia. Returns to Berlin. Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin.

1947 – Honorary citizen of Zwickau.

1951 – Honorary citizen of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin.

1952 – Awarded the Great Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

1954 – Art Prize of the City of Berlin.





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