Max Pechstein

Biography of Max Pechstein

Hailed by his contemporaries as one of the leading figures of the Die Brücke art group, painter and print maker Max Pechstein played a seminal role in the German Avantgarde of the early 20th century. His emotionally agitated paintings of landscapes both far and near, his raw depictions of the human form, and his use of high-keyed, often non-naturalistic color would prove fundamental to the development of Expressionism in a war-ridden part of history.


Max Pechstein was born in 1881 in Zwickau, Germany, to a family of textile craftsmen who would encourage his enthusiasm for the visual arts. From an early age, Max Pechstein would be stimulated by the art of Vincent Van Gogh, pushing the budding artist toward dreamlike expressionism. He attended art school in Dresden, where he would eventually meet Erich Heckel who invited him to join Die Brücke in 1906. His association to the group would expose him to the work of Fauvist artists such as Henri Matisse, spurring Max Pechstein’s use of vigorous brushstrokes and clashing combinations of opaque colors. In 1908 however, the artist relocated to Berlin where he began adopting more simple compositions and somber colors, and would dedicate much time to left-wing artist associations.


From 1933, Max Pechstein was vilified by the Nazis. The far right party forced the artist to resign from his teaching post at the Berlin Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste), and subsequently removed a total of 326 of his paintings from museums across Germany. A number of these works would later be exhibited at the infamous ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition of 1937.


During his lifetime, Max Pechstein was also known to be a prolific print maker, producing over 400 lithographs, over 300 woodcuts and over 165 intaglio prints. While working with Die Brücke, his prints were essentially self-printed in small editions, however upon moving to Berlin we would collaborate with larger publishers—most notably, Fritz Gurlitt—to create portfolios and illustrated books.


In his time, Max Pechstein was one of the best-selling members of Die Brücke. Posthumously, the artist would also strike important figures at auction, with his painting Die Gelbe Maske I (The Yellow Mask I), selling for $1.37 million at a 1999 Sotheby’s auction, and Zirkus mit Dromedaren (Circus with Dromadaries), selling for £1.9 million in 2008. Today, the artist’s work can be seen  in the collections of the MoMA in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Albertina in Vienna, and the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin, among others.

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