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 Max Beckmann  (1884 - 1950)

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About: Max Beckmann
 

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Lived/Active: Missouri / Germany      Known for: expressionist painting, printmaking, nazi degenerate art

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BIOGRAPHY for Max Beckmann
Facts/Data
Birth
1884 (Leipzig, Germany)
 
Death
1950 (New York City)

Lived/Active
Missouri / Germany


© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Often Known For
expressionist painting, printmaking, nazi degenerate art

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

BECKMANN, MAX 

Max Beckmann was a German  Expressionist painter worthy of inclusion in a great tradition - the tradition of anguished German mysticism, which first flowered in the Middle Ages.  His highly personal style reflected the misery of contemporary events in Germany.

Beckmann was born in Leipzig in 1884, the youngest of three children.  His father, a grain merchant, died when Beckmann was only ten years old.  By the age of fifteen, after several years of boarding school and over his family's objections, he decided that his destiny lay as a painter.  After failing the entrance exam for the Konigliche Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in Dresden, he was accepted by the Grossherzogliche Sachsische Kunstschule in Weimar in 1900.  The School provided him with an academic art education, whereby he learned to draw from antique sculpture as well as from live models.  At school, he met Minna Tube, a fellow artist whom he married in 1906 and who gave birth to his only child, Peter.

As a prosperous young man, working in the years before World War I, Beckmann was hardly a radical.  He distrusted some of the young German expressionists (he called their work poster-painting) and achieved critical success with a conservative style based on impressionism.  He was immensely ambitious.  He wanted nothing less than to find a modern way to paint in the grand style of traditional history painting.  Yet he also had a powerful expressionist streak.

Beckmann was already a success at the age of thirty when World War I broke out.  He loved the street-scene turmoil and crammed his major canvases with crowds of jostling, uncongenial characters.  To avoid killing, he volunteered for the medical corps and spent a year during World War I as a medical orderly; he had a nervous breakdown, and it strengthened his art.  Having once viewed life as a kind of theatre, staged for the benefit of his art, he now threw himself into a furious personal struggle with the world.  After the war, Beckmann portrayed city life and cafe society with mordant grace.  During the 1920s he began to develop his mature style.  He turned toward symbol, allegory and myth; in triptychs of the 1930s and 40s he investigated themes of freedom and constraint, the existential dilemmas of the modern artist, and the struggle between the sexes.

In 1925, Beckmann was appointed to teach in Frankfurt, a position he held until 1933.  That same year, he divorced Minna Tube and married Mathilde (Quappi) von Kaulbach, who became the subject of many of his important paintings.  The following year, he had his first solo exhibition in the United States, at J. B. Neumann's New Art Circle gallery in New York, thereby expanding his reputation in the international art community.

During this period Beckmann's style became richer and more complex.  The example of Cezanne helped him invest his pictures with a strong linear architecture; he developed, in particular, a beautiful way with thick black lines, which gives his pictures the sluggish power of hot pitch. The example of Matisse (who used black so well) no doubt helped Beckmann master the rhythm between his increasingly lush colors.  His light, in turn, became very odd.  Many paintings, whatever the indication of shadow, seem lit from behind: the backlighting, the rich color and the strong black lines give some works the sturdy, but spiritual, luminosity of stained glass.

Beckmann worked in this style until the end of his life - despite increasing repression by the Nazis, since he had been branded by Hitler himself as a "degenerate painter".  This prompted his immigration to Amsterdam in 1937, and in 1947 to the United States, where he taught at Washington University in St. Louis, in Brooklyn, and at Mills College in Oakland, CA.  Unlike most expressionists, he did not burn out young, perhaps because he had never been just an expressionist.  He sometimes painted gentle portraits and beguiling landscapes.  He took pleasure in sweet as well as sour color, he favored a certain grim whimsy.  His criticism is directed less at this person or that political system than at life itself.  Although he himself was never an abstract painter, the New York school of abstract expressionism owes much to him for his unflagging insistence on directness and violence.

Some observers find Beckmann's enigmatic iconography a distraction from the purely visual pleasure of art.  He was an artist who resolutely cast his work in a heroic mode.  The self-portrait was something of a specialty with Beckmann; in them there is also an uncanny vitality and force of character.

Two days after Christmas 1950, while on a morning walk in Manhattan's Central Park, Beckmann suffered a fatal heart attack.

Sources:
Art News, November 1974
TIME Magazine, March 14, 1960
Newsweek Magazine, Mark Stevens, September 17, 1984
Hilton Kramer in Art and Antiques, November 1992
Time Magazine, January 1, 1965
Mark Harden's Artchive: "Artchive" - "Max Beckmann" (On the internet)

Compiled and written by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
One of Germany's leading twentieth-century artists, Max Beckmann created figurative paintings.  Born 1884 in Leipzig, Germany, into a merchant family he was influenced by the First and Second World Wars, the political changes of the 1920s and 1930s, the rise of Naziism, his exile in Amsterdam and his emigration to the United States.

Between the years of 1915 to 1933, he worked primarily in Frankfurt-am-Main, where he taught at the Kunstgewerbeschule and traveled frequently to Paris and Berlin.  His frustration and sadness with World War I are expressed in his work from 1918-23, during which Beckmann served as a medical orderly.  During the 1920s he exhibited with the artists of the New Objectivity group, the "Neue Sachlichkeit."  From 1927-32, his work exhibits his success and public recognition, while serving as a professor at the State Art University (Stadelsches Kunstinstitut) in Frankfurt.  After the Nazi regime took power he was fired. Labeled as a "cultural Bolshevik" and "degenerate artist" he left Germany in 1937 (until 1947) and was exiled to Holland.  While in Amsterdam, he was quite prolific.

Beckmann spent the last three years of his life in the United States, studied in Weimar in the late 1940s and was in residence in St. Louis, Missouri.

Source:
Spaightwood Galleries, http://spaightwoodgalleries.com
www.artandculture.com

Biography from Galerie St. Etienne:
Born in Leipzig, Germany, Max Beckmann began his formal art training at sixteen at the Weimar Art School and then studied in Paris and Florence.  He returned to Berlin, where he made contact with the art dealer Paul Cassirer in 1907, became the youngest member of the Berlin Secession's governing body in 1910, and received a contract to publish his graphic works in 1911.

By 1913 he had had his first solo show at Paul Cassirer's gallery, and the first monograph of his work had been published; respected critics praised his work.  In 1915, Beckmann enlisted as a medical orderly in the German army, and the misery and slaughter that he witnessed on the Front caused him to have a nervous breakdown.

His military experience changed his artistic style completely: the romantic technique of the prewar years gave way to a style that employed angular forms and flat colors.  His new works were displayed for the first time in 1919 and received an exceptionally positive reception.

Beckmann reached the height of his popularity from 1924 to 1930, during the Weimar era.  At this time a second monograph of his work was compiled, the dealer I.B. Neumann signed him to a three-year contract with a guaranteed income, he was employed as a master teacher at the Städelschule in Frankfurt, an entire room of the Kronprinzenpalais in Berlin was dedicated to his work, and in 1930 he was chosen to represent Germany at the Venice Biennale.

His bleak figures captured the imagination of a depressed nation.  Beckman felt the effects of National Socialism as soon as Hitler came to power in 1933.  He was immediately dismissed from his post at the Städelschule and was vilified by the Nazis as a despised "degenerate" artist.  His works were placed in the first room of the "Degenerate Art" exhibition of 1937. 

The day of the show's opening, he and his wife fled to Amsterdam, where he lived out the war.  Beckmann emigrated to the United States in 1947 and took teaching positions in St. Louis and then in Brooklyn.

He died in 1950 of a heart attack.

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