Max Carl Friedrich Beckmann (* 12 February 1884 in Leipzig; † 27 December 1950 in New York City) is one of the most important German modernist artists and is regarded as a powerful interpreter of the world in his time. His main interest was in people.
Beckmann began making self-portraits as early as his school years. A tradition that remained until his death as a constant, unrelenting form of self-questioning.
At 16, he began studying painting in Weimar at the Grand Ducal School of Art, graduating with several awards. In 1906 he married the painter Minna Tube. After stays in Paris, Geneva and Florence, he settled in Berlin in 1907, where he joined the "Berliner Secession". When almost 30 artists were rejected by the jury of the Berlin Secession in 1910, Max Beckmann joined the artists' group "Neue Secession", which was led by Max Liebermann, as a protest action. Other members of the Neue Secession included Erich Heckel, Wassily Kandinsky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Franz Marc, Otto Mueller, Gabriele Münter, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Marianne von Werefkin.
During the First World War Beckmann was a voluntary medical orderly. In July 1915, however, he broke down mentally and physically and was released from military service. He moved to Frankfurt am Main. The experiences of the First World War had a lasting influence on his work. His main theme was now the lonely, threatened and helpless human being in an apocalyptic world full of violence. The new content was accompanied by a new aesthetic and formal language in his paintings. Beckmann reduced the colouring. Dull brown, grey or yellow dominated the canvas. The faces and bodies appeared haggard and worn. The bodies were more angular and extremely overlong. This was accompanied by a preference for canvases in narrow vertical formats. These corresponded with the overlong bodies and enclosed them in oppressive environments.
From 1915 to 1933 he taught in Frankfurt am Main at the Staatliche Kunstgewerbeschule, now the Städelschule, where he was appointed professor in 1929. The colourfulness of his painting became stronger again in the 1920s. The spirit of the New Objectivity was reflected in the reduction of the pictorial objects. During these years Beckmann was increasingly interested in mythological content. When he met Mathilde von Kaulbach, he divorced his wife. In 1925 he married Mathilde von Kaulbach. He made his new wife one of the most painted and drawn women in art history. In 1928, his fame in Germany reached its peak with the Reichsehrenpreis Deutscher Kunst and a first comprehensive Beckmann retrospective at the Kunsthalle Mannheim.
Even before Hitler came to power in April 1933, Beckmann was dismissed from his professorship at the Städelschule. In the same year he left Frankfurt and moved back to Berlin. In 1937 Beckmann's oeuvre was declared "degenerate". He was widely represented in the exhibitions on degenerate art that were shown throughout Germany. Together with his wife, he emigrated to Amsterdam in the same year. Deeply enigmatic paintings, self-portraits and some symbol-laden triptychs with partly mythological themes characterise his exile work.
From 1939 onwards, the couple applied for visas to the USA, which they did not receive until 1947. From the end of September of the same year, the artist taught at the Art School of Washington University in St. Louis. In May 1948, the Saint Louis Art Museum showed a large Beckmann retrospective. At the end of 1949 Max Beckmann accepted a professorship at the Art School of the Brooklyn Museum in New York.
Washington University in Saint Louis awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1950. By this time he was already finding it difficult to assert his art against the now popular non-objective painting of the post-war period.
At the age of 66, Max Beckmann died of a heart attack on 27 December 1950. His tenth triptych, Amazons, remained unfinished.
Beckmann's triptycha are among his major works of the 20th century. In addition to the paintings, Max Beckmann created an extensive body of prints.
Stilleben mit roten Rosen, 1914, Oil on canvas, 93 × 72,5 cm
Frau mit Hut, 1936, pencil on paper, 21 × 14,8 cm
Liegende (Studie zu dem Bild “Afternoon“), 1945, Pen and pencil on paper, 33 × 35,9 cm