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Max Beckmann (1884-1950)

( Originally Published 1955 )

Distinguished German Expressionist painter and graphic artist. He first studied painting at the Weimar School of Art and was influenced by the monumentality of Hans von Marees. After three years he traveled to Florence and Paris, absorbing the message of the Old Masters, particularly Piero della Francesca and the French primitives, and admiring the contemporary work of Cezanne and Van Gogh. From 1904 to 1914 in Berlin he participated in the Secession movement which showed both Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. He soon moved from a classically conceived type of painting to a realistic and then a Realist-Impressionist approach in which emotionality plays an important part. The transition point came in the World War I years when Beckmann's experiences as a corpsman in Belgium and France were a great spiritual shock. From this point on, such paintings as The Night, The Woman Taken in Adultery, and, in 1920, The Family, move toward a cold reality in keeping with the growing New Objectivity spirit of the later war years and immediate postwar period. From 1923 to 1932 this bitterness changed to a kind of frozen dream-world quality characteristic of the second stage of the New Objectivity, when the horror of the postwar years yielded to sheer disillusionment. By this time Beckmann's art had reached its typical form, with tightly compressed space suggesting both Post-Impressionist and medieval practices, a harsh contour line from medieval sources, and a richness of color that bespeaks the color symbolism of our times. After 1932 Beckmann's art evolved the complex personal and poetic symbolism that marks him as one of the foremost masters of the modern era. This development is found in the great triptychs such as The Departure, The Actors, Blindman's Buff, as well as in individual works like the magnificent Christ in Limbo (1948) and the many significant graphics of the last period.

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