Max Beckmann
German painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor and writer



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Max Beckmann
German painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor and writer
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Date of Birth

February 27, 1884

Date of Death

December 27, 1950

Arty Fact

More about Max Beckmann

ebrowne's picture


Max Beckmann was born at just the wrong time. 

He had to fight in the first World War and was ridiculed and exiled as a “degenerate” artist in the second. Timing was really not his strong suit! Born in Germany in 1884, little Max had a relatively peaceful adolescence, with the exception of his father dying when he was ten and the mishap when he ran away from his boarding school run by a Protestant minister. Also, his mother wasn’t psyched about the idea of her son as an artist but that is common ground for many creative types. He ignored her and applied to art school anyway.

And then World War I happened and Beckmann volunteered as a medical orderly. He was sent directly to the frontline where he suffered a nervous breakdown and was discharged. His experiences at the front completely transformed the style of his work. All it took was a little psychological torture and “injuries of the soul” as he put it to give us the Beckmann we know and love today.

Though he was married twice, Beckmann’s true love was always painting. He wrote to his wife, Minna, from the front, “Oh, I wish that I could paint again. Paint is an instrument without which I cannot survive for any length of time. Whenever I even think of gray, green and white, I am overcome with quivers of lust. Then I wish that this war would end and that I might paint again.” I’m sure Minna was stoked to hear that her husband was overcome with lust at the thought of colors after so much time apart, but hey, who are we to judge. 

When WWII rolled around, Beckmann moved to Amsterdam and then eventually New York with his second wife, Quappi. The Americans went nuts over his work and he was exhibited widely. However, his time was cut short. Beckmann suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after he arrived in New York. He was on his way to see one of his own paintings hanging at the Met.




  1. Kramer, Hilton. “REDISCOVERING THE ART OF MAX BECKMANN.” Magazine (The New York Times), August 19, 1984.
  2. Lackner, Stephan. “Max Beckmann,” Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 14

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Max Beckmann

Max Beckmann (February 12, 1884 – December 27, 1950) was a German painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, and writer. Although he is classified as an Expressionist artist, he rejected both the term and the movement. In the 1920s, he was associated with the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), an outgrowth of Expressionism that opposed its introverted emotionalism.


Max Beckmann was born into a middle-class family in Leipzig, Saxony. From his youth he pitted himself against the old masters. His traumatic experiences of World War I, in which he volunteered as a medical orderly, coincided with a dramatic transformation of his style from academically correct depictions to a distortion of both figure and space, reflecting his altered vision of himself and humanity.

He is known for the self-portraits painted throughout his life, their number and intensity rivaled only by those of Rembrandt and Picasso. Well-read in philosophy and literature, Beckmann also contemplated mysticism and theosophy in search of the "Self". As a true painter-thinker, he strove to find the hidden spiritual dimension in his subjects (Beckmann's 1948 Letters to a Woman Painter provides a statement of his approach to art).

Beckmann enjoyed great success and official honors during the Weimar Republic. In 1925 he was selected to teach a master class at the Städelschule Academy of Fine Art in Frankfurt. Some of his most famous students included Theo Garve, Leo Maillet and Marie-Louise von Motesiczky. In 1927 he received the Honorary Empire Prize for German Art and the Gold Medal of the City of Düsseldorf; the National Gallery in Berlin acquired his painting The Bark and, in 1928, purchased his Self-Portrait in Tuxedo. By the early 1930s, a series of major exhibitions, including large retrospectives at the Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim (1928) and in Basel and Zurich (1930), together with numerous publications, showed the high esteem in which Beckmann was held.

His fortunes changed with the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, whose dislike of Modern Art quickly led to its suppression by the state. In 1933, the Nazi government called Beckmann a "cultural Bolshevik" and dismissed him from his teaching position at the Art School in Frankfurt. In 1937 the government confiscated more than 500 of his works from German museums, putting several on display in the notorious Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich. The day after Hitler's radio speech about degenerate art in 1937, Beckmann left Germany with his second wife, Quappi, for the Netherlands.

For ten years, Beckmann lived in self-imposed exile in Amsterdam, failing in his desperate attempts to obtain a visa for the United States. In 1944 the Germans attempted to draft him into the army, although the sixty-year-old artist had suffered a heart attack. The works completed in his Amsterdam studio were even more powerful and intense than the ones of his master years in Frankfurt. They included several large triptychs, which stand as a summation of Beckmann's art.

In 1948, Beckmann moved to the United States. During the last three years of his life, he taught at the art schools of Washington University in St. Louis (with the German-American painter and printmaker Werner Drewes) and the Brooklyn Museum. He came to St. Louis at the invitation of Perry T. Rathbone, who was director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. Rathbone arranged for Washington University in St. Louis to hire Beckmann as an art teacher, filling a vacancy left by Philip Guston, who had taken a leave. The first Beckmann retrospective in the United States took place in 1948 at the City Art Museum, Saint Louis. In St. Louis, Morton D. May became his patron and, already an avid amateur photographer and painter, a student of the artist. May later donated much of his large collection of Beckmann's works to the St. Louis Art Museum. Beckmann also helped him learn to appreciate Oceanian and African art. After stops in Denver and Chicago, he and Quappi took an apartment at 38 West 69th Street in Manhattan. In 1949 he obtained a professorship at the Art School of New York's Brooklyn Museum.

He suffered from angina pectoris and died after Christmas 1950, struck down by a heart attack at the corner of 69th Street and Central Park West in New York, not far from his apartment building. As the artist's widow recalled, he was on his way to see one of his paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Beckmann had a one-man show at the Venice Biennale of 1950, the year of his death.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Max Beckmann.