Max Beckmann

Biography of Max Beckmann

The consistently brilliant career of Max Beckmann found him producing art even under the most difficult of circumstances and becoming the most famous proponent of New Objectivity. Born in Leipzig in 1884, Beckmann began drawing as a child and entered the Weimar Saxon Grand Ducal Art Academy in 1900. A regular visitor to Paris he was highly influenced by Paul Cézanne and the Impressionists. His involvement in the First World War was to have a profound effect upon him; working as a paramedic he suffered a mental breakdown after witnessing the carnage all around him. 


After the war Max Beckmann settled in Frankfurt and his career began to take off. He enjoyed increasing interest and plaudits in Germany, whilst six of his paintings were included in a prestigious group show in MoMA in New York in 1931. This period of success came to an abrupt end, however, with the appointment of Hitler as German Chancellor in 1933. Beckmann’s work was removed from museums and in the midst of a hostile environment he left Germany for Amsterdam in 1937. Despite Nazi pressure he never backed down or even considered changing his style. Finally, in 1947 his U.S. Visa came through and he left Amsterdam for a teaching post in St Louis in the U.S.. After a short time he moved on to New York to teach at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. He died in 1950, on his way to view his work Self-portrait in Blue jacket, 1950 then on display at the MoMA.


Max Beckmann was adept at portraying the bourgeois excesses of Germany’s Weimar culture, often in a style that was disturbingly detached. His distinctive portraits with their vibrant colors and bold outlines are highly sought after. The artist never shied away from tackling universal themes of terror and the mysteries of the inexplicable. Despite being compared with German Expression he was not interested in creating abstract paintings, once explaining: “I hardly need to abstract things, for each object is unreal enough already, so unreal that I can only make it real by means of painting.”


A prestigious printmaker, draughtsman, and painter, Max Beckmann’s work can be found in many of the world’s top museum collections. He has received major retrospectives around the world including at MoMA, New York in 1995 and Tate Modern in London in 2003 whilst the Städel Museum in Frankfurt dedicated an entire room to Beckmann for its permanent exhibition in 2011. His paintings regularly sell for over $1 million and his self-portraits are highly prized and in 2001 a collector paid over $20 million at Sotheby’s New York for his work Self-Portrait with Horn, 1938. Beckmann’s death in 1950 coincided with a prestigious solo show at the Venice Biennale.

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