Max Beckmann was a German painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, and writer. Although he is usually 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.
Beckmann was the living embodiment of Expressionism, always painting in his own style. He was a figurative artist, and began by studying classic techniques of the masters. However, being drafted into the German army in WWI, combined with his experiences there, caused Beckmann's art to become Expressionistic. That Hitler hated Expressionism forced Beckmann into exile. In his last years, spent in the Netherlands and the US, he created his best-known, tortured pieces, often contained in triptychs.
Max Beckmann was an expressionist painter and graphic artist, born in Leipzig, East Germany. He studied at the Weimar School of Art for three years, before traveling to Florence and to Paris. He was especially impressed by Piero della Francesca, the French primitives, Cezanne, and Van Gogh. From 1906 to 1914, Beckmann was associated with the "Berlin Secession" movement, while painting in a distinctively impressionistic manner. His experiences as a medical corpsman in 1914-15 were such a shock to his sensibilities that when, after a severe illness, he began to paint again, in 1917, his work became infused with the icy bitterness of a reaction to the horrors of war and to the depression of the postwar years in Germany.
His compositions, in 1920, were strongly defined within spaces confined by harsh lines of contour. His color was limited, symbolic in tonality, and quite cold. His principal subject, the human being, "the monster of vitality," was presented in nightmarish scenes of brutally raw living. As the memories of war and and postwar began to fade, this nightmarish quality changed to one of dreamlike disillusion in his landscapes, his still lives, and in his portraits of bold or occasionally tender women. His enigmatic portraits of men, or of himself are equally inscrutable.
In 1933 he left Frankfurt for political reasons and went to Berlin where he stayed until 1936. He then went to Amsterdam and finally, in 1940, to New York where he died ten years later. The paintings from this final phase are freer and broader in style, simpler in expression, and more varied in their use of color. His subjects are mythical or allegorical and his motifs are symbolic. He expresses, with a force that is almost physical in impact, the problems of man's existence in a difficult world.