Max Beckmann

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There have been very few German painters who have managed to make an impact and carve out a distinguished career for them, and at the same time been able to sustain a constant level of greatness throughout their careers like Max Beckmann did. Beckmann not only managed to survive the Nazi occupation in Germany but came out of it a stronger more versatile artist. Beckmann even faced persecution by the Nazis, was forced into exile yet despite these shortcomings he continued to paint. He created more than 800 paintings and created hundreds of other drawing and sketches. The German painter and printmaker was fascinated with the human condition and often searched for answers in his paintings, Beckmann had a very humane approach to painting the human face. Although some of his works qualify for the Expressionist art movement, he rejected the notion and associated himself with the New Objectivity art movement. It was another branch of Expressionism which dealt with the emotional side of paintings.

Max Beckmann was born in 1884 in Leipzig, Saxony into a middle class family. Since his youth he put himself against the great masters of art, he developed a strong inclination towards art. A small stint as a medical officer during World War I exposed Beckmann to very tragic and sad scenes, these found face in many of his paintings. His experience was no doubt traumatic and it forced him to dwell deeper into the human psyche. His war experience compelled him to paint often disproportionate, distorted figures with exaggerate color composition. The human form at its worse became an enigma for Beckmann and he famous stated that he would even visit the sewers if he has to in order to look for inspiration. There was an intense emotion and symbolism associated with Beckman’s paintings.  Even before the war Beckman used to paint but his experiences during the war made his artistic style shift drastically. From traditional academic technique he shifted towards a more expressive and critical viewpoint of painting. Beckman was often not even happy with himself and painted self-portraits – 85 to be exact – in various forms of distortion. His Self Portrait in Tuxedo is a firm example of this. Beckman toyed with the viewer with this painting of his. In the painting you see a confident, self-possessed artist who exudes charm and knows exactly what he wants. His expression is casual and there is an expression of lack of interest almost in the painting. Deep down the real feelings were quite the opposite, Beckman was tired and quite sad with the way the world was heading during the early years of World War II. Through this painting he was trying to depict how easy it is for anyone to not see the real mask of the person, the one hidden beneath all the layers.

Later on Max Beckmann moved away from portraits and also painted landscapes and scenes from mythology tales. He even tried his hand on religious paintings but with his own unique twist. He experimented with those paintings in the format of a triptych, which was a three panelled painting. He took the religious context from the old school books and gave his own modern touch to them. Despite the Nazis destroying a lot of his works, many still exist and can be found worldwide from London, New York to Paris and Munich.

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