Max Beckmann

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Max Beckmann (February 12, 1884 – December 28, 1950) was a German painter, printmaker. Although he is classified as an Expressionist artist, he rejected both the term and the movement. In the 1920s, he was associated with the German New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit).

Quotes[edit]

1910s[edit]

  • Oh I wish that I could paint again. Paint is an instrument without which I cannot survive for any length of time. Whenever I even think of gray, green and white, I am overcome with quivers of lust. Then I wish that this war would end and that I might paint again.
    • In: a letter to his first wife Minna, from the front, first World war, 1915; as quoted in Max Beckmann, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 14
  • I have never, God or whatever knows, prostrated myself to be famous, but I would meander through all the sewers of the world, through all degradations and humiliations, in order to paint. I have to do this. Until the last drop every vision that exists in my being must be purged; then it will be a pleasure for me to be rid of this damned torture
    • In: a letter to his first wife Minna, from the front, first World war, 1915; as quoted in Max Beckmann, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 5
  • I have such a passion for painting! I am continually working at form. In actual drawing and in my head, and during my sleep. Sometimes I think I shall go mad, this painful, sensual pleasures tires and torments me so much. Everything else vanishes, time and space, and I think of nothing but how to paint the head of the resurrected Christ.. ..Or how shall I paint Minkchen (his wife Minna) now, with her knees drawn up and her head leaning on her hand against the yellow wall with her rose, or the sparkling light in the dazzling whiteness of the anti-aircraft shell-bursts in the leaden, sun drenched sky...
    • In: a letter to his first wife Minna, from the front, first World war, 11 May, 1915; as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 213
  • Yesterday we came across a cemetery that had been completely destroyed by shellfire. The graves had been blown up, and the coffins lay about in the most uncomfortable positions. The shells had unceremoniously exposed their distinguished occupants to the light of day, and bones, hair, and bits of clothing could be seen through cracks in the burst-open coffins.
    • In: a letter to his first wife Minna, from the front, first World war, 1915; as quoted in Max Beckmann, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 14
  • The trenches wound in meandering lines and white faces peered from dark dugouts – a lot of men were still preparing the positions, and everywhere among them there were graves. Where they sat, beside their dugouts, even between the sandbags, crosses stuck out. Corpses jammed in among them. It sounds like fiction – one man was frying potatoes on a grave next to his dugout. The existence of life here had already become a paradoxical joke.
    • In: a letter to his first wife Minna, from the front, first World war, 21 May, 1915; as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 213
  • The laws of art are eternal and don’t change at all, as the moral laws don’t change in human beings. (in discussion with Franz Marc who demanded in 'Der Blaue Reiter' around 1912 a new art, in relation to its own - changing - time).
    • from the exhibition 'Expressionisten, die Avantgarde in Deutschland 1905 -1920', catalog Nationalgalerie Berlin, DDR, 1986, p. 109
  • The editor of this catalog asked me to make a statement about my work. I don’t have much to write:
    - Be a child of your age.
    - Be naturalistic against your own ego.
    - Be matter-of- fact toward your inner visions.
    - My love is dedicated to the four great masters of masculine mysticism: Mäleskirchener (church-painters / muralists, fh), Grünewald, Breughel and Van Gogh.
    • In: a catalog-text for his first major graphic show, November 1917; as quoted in ”Max Beckmann”, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 14


1930s[edit]

  • What is important to me in my work is the identity that is hidden behind so-called reality. I search for a bridge from the given present tot the invisible, rather as a famous cabalist once said, ‘If you wish to grasp the invisible, penetrate as deeply as possible into the visible’.
    • In: his public speech 'On my painting' for the exhibition 'Twentieth-Century German Art', London, 21 July 1938; as quoted in Max Beckmann, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 77
  • Put the picture away or, preferably, send it back to me, dear Valentin. If people cannot understand it is based on their inner engagement with these matters, then there is no point in showing the thing at all.
    • In: a letter to his art dealer Curt Valentin, Amsterdam, 11 February 1938; as quoted in Max Beckmann, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 52
  • My aim is always to get hold of the magic of reality and to transfer this reality in painting – to make the invisible visible through reality.. ..What helps me most in this task is the penetration of space. Height, width and depth are the three phenomena which I must transfer into one plane to form the abstract surface of the picture, and thus to protect myself from the infinity of space. My figures come and go, suggested by fortune or misfortune. I try to fix them divested of their apparent accidental quality.
    • In: republished text of his public speech during the exhibition 'Twentieth-Century German Art', London, 21 July 1938; as quoted in Max Beckmann – On my Painting, Tate Publishing London, 2003, p. 12
  • Space and space again, is the infinite deity which surrounds us and in which we are ourselves contained.
    • In: republished text of his public speech during the exhibition 'Twentieth-Century German Art', London, 21 July 1938; as quoted in Max Beckmann – On my Painting, Tate Publishing London, 2003, p. 12
  • It is not the subject which matters but the translation of the subject into the abstraction of the surface by means of painting. Therefore 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.
    • In: republished text of his public speech during the exhibition 'Twentieth-Century German Art', London, 21 July 1938; as quoted in Max Beckmann – On my Painting, Tate Publishing London, 2003, pp. 12-13
  • All things come to me in black and white like virtue and crime. Yes, black and white are the two elements which concern me. It is my fortune, or misfortune, that I can see neither all in black nor all in white.. ..I cannot help realizing both, for only in the two, only in black and white, can I see God as a unity creating again and again a great and eternally changing terrestrial drama.
    • In: Max Beckmann – On my Painting, Tate Publishing London, 2003, pp. 13-14
  • Everything intellectual and transcendent is joined together in painting by the uninterrupted labour of the eyes. Each shade of a flower, a face, a tree, a fruit, a sea, a mountain, is noted eagerly by the intensity of the senses to which is added, in a way of which we are not conscious, the work of the mind, and in the end the strength or weakness of the soul.. ..It is the strength of soul which forces the mind to constant exercise to widen its conception of space. Something of this is perhaps contained in my pictures.
    • In: Max Beckmann – On my Painting, Tate Publishing London, 2003, p. 14
  • One thing is sure – we have to transform the three-dimensional world of objects into the two-dimensional world of the canvas.. ..To transform three into two dimensions is for me an experience full of magic in which I glimpse for a moment that fourth dimension which my whole being is seeking.
    • In: Max Beckmann – On my Painting, Tate Publishing London, 2003, p. 16
  • Imagination is perhaps the most decisive characteristic of mankind. My dream is the imagination of space – to change the optical impression of the world of objects by a transcendental arithmetic progression of the inner being. That is the precept. In principal any alteration of the object is allowed which has a sufficiently strong creative power behind it. Whether such alteration causes excitement or boredom in the spectator is for you to decide.
    • In: republished text of his public speech during the exhibition 'Twentieth-Century German Art', London, 21 July 1938; as quoted in Max Beckmann – On my Painting, Tate Publishing London, 2003, p. 16
  • The individual representation of the object, treated sympathetically or antipathetically, is highly necessary and is an enrichment to the world in form. The elimination of the human relationship causes the vacuum which makes all of us suffer in various degrees – an individual alteration of the details of the object represented is necessary in order to display on the canvas the whole physicals reality.
    • In: Max Beckmann – On my Painting, Tate Publishing London, 2003, pp. 17-18
  • Painting is a very difficult thing. It absorbs the whole man, body and soul – thus I have passed blindly many things which belong to the real and political life. I assume, though, that there are two worlds: the world of spiritual life and the world of political reality. Both are manifestations of life which may sometimes coincide but are very different in principle. I must leave it to you (the audience) to decide which is the more important.
    • In: republished text of his public speech during the exhibition 'Twentieth-Century German Art', London, 21 July 1938; as quoted in Max Beckmann – On my Painting, Tate Publishing London, 2003, p. 18
  • Colour, as the strange and magnificent expression of the inscrutable spectrum of Eternity, is beautiful and important to me as a painter; I use it to enrich the canvas and to probe more deeply into the object. Colour also decided, to a certain extent, my spiritual outlook, but it is subordinated to life, and above all, to the treatment of form. Too much emphasis on colour at the expense of form and space would make a double manifestation of itself on the canvas, and this would verge on craft work.
    • In: Max Beckmann – On my Painting, Tate Publishing London, 2003, pp. 18-19
  • My first informed impression, and what I would like to achieve, I can perhaps only realize when I am impelled as in a vision. One of my figures, perhaps one from the Temptation, sang his strange song to me one night – ..We are playing hide-and-seek, we are playing hide-and-seek across a thousand seas, we gods.. ..when the skies are red in the middle of the night, when the skies are red at night. You cannot see us, you cannot see us but you are ourselves.. ..that is what makes us laugh so gaily.. ..Stars are our eyes and nebulae our beards.. ..we have people’s souls for our hearts. We hide ourselves and you cannot see us, which is just what we want.
    • In: Max Beckmann – On my Painting, Tate Publishing London, 2003, p. 19
  • One of my problems is to find the Ego, which has only one form and is immortal – to find it in animals and men, in the heaven and in the hell which together form the world in which we live.
    • In: his public speech 'On my painting' for the exhibition ‘Twentieth-Century German Art’, London, 21 July 1938
  • Often, very often, I am alone. My studio in Amsterdam, (Beckmann lived in the center of Amsterdam during World War 2.) an enormous old tobacco storeroom is again filled in my imagination with figures from the old days and from the new, like an ocean moved by storm and sun and always present in my thoughts. Then shapes become beings and seem comprehensible to me in the great void and uncertainty of the space which I call god.
    • In: his public speech 'On my painting' for the exhibition ‘Twentieth-Century German Art’, London, 21 July 1938
  • All important things in art since Ur of the Chaldea’s, since Tel Halaf and Crete, have always originated from the deepest feeling about the mystery of Being. Self-realization is the urge of all objective spirits. It is this Ego for which I am searching in my life and in my art. Art is creative for the sake of realization, not for amusement, for transfiguration, not for the sake of play. It is the quest of our Ego that drives us along the eternal and never-ending journey we must all make.
    • In: his public speech 'On my painting' for the exhibition ‘Twentieth-Century German Art’, London, 21 July 1938
  • As a painter, cursed or blessed with a terrible and vital sensuousness, I must look for wisdom with my eyes. I repeat, with my eyes, for nothing could be more ridiculous or irrelevant than a 'philosophical conception painted purely intellectually without the terrible fury of the senses grasping each visible form of beauty and ugliness.
    • In: his public speech 'On my painting' for the exhibition ‘Twentieth-Century German Art’, London, 21 July 1938
  • It is, of course, a luxury to create art and, on top of this, to insist on expressing one’s own artistic opinion. Nothing is more luxurious than this. It is a game and a good game, at least for me; one of the few games which make life, difficult and depressing as it is sometimes, a little more interesting.
    • In: his public speech 'On my painting' for the exhibition ‘Twentieth-Century German Art’, London, 21 July 1938
  • The Ego is the great veiled mystery of the world.. ..I believe in it and in its eternal, immutable form. Its path is, in some strange and peculiar manner, our path. And for this reason I am immersed in the phenomenon of the Individual, the so-called whole Individual, and I try in every way to explain and present it. What are you? What am I? Those are the questions that constantly persecute and torment me and perhaps also play some part in my art.
    • In: his public speech 'On my painting' for the exhibition ‘Twentieth-Century German Art’, London, 21 July 1938
  • And then I awoke and yet continued to dream… painting constantly appeared to me as the one and only possible achievement. I thought of my grand old friend Henri Rousseau (French painter) that Homer in the porter’s lodge whose pre-historic dreams have sometimes brought me near the gods. I saluted him in my dream. Near him I saw William Blake, noble emanation of English genius… …’Have confidence in your objects,’ he said, 'do not let yourself be intimidated by the horror of the world. Everything is ordered and correct and must fulfill its destiny in order to attain perfection. Seek this path'.. ..I awoke and found myself in Holland in the midst of boundless world turmoil. But my belief in the final release and absolution of all things, whether they please or torment, was newly strengthened. Peacefully I laid my head among the pillows… to sleep, and dream, again.
    • In: his public speech 'On my painting' for the exhibition ‘Twentieth-Century German Art’, London, 21 July 1938
  • Departure (also the title of a famous triptych painting, Beckmann made), yes departure from the illusion of life toward the essential things that wait behind appearance.. ..We must insist that Departure is not bound to a political trend, but is symbolic for all times.
    • In: a letter to his art dealer Curt Valentin, Amsterdam, 11 February 1938; as quoted in Max Beckmann – On my Painting in the preface, Mayen Beckmann; Tate Publishing London, 2003
  • Politics is a subordinate matter; its form of appearance constantly changes depending on the needs of the masses, the same way cocottes adjust to the needs of men by transforming and masking themselves. Because of that it is not fundamental. That is about what endures, what is unique, what is in the stream of illusions – what is eliminated from the workings of the shadows.
    • In: a letter to Stephan Lackner, Amsterdam, 29 January 1938; as quoted in Max Beckmann – On my Painting in the preface, Mayen Beckmann; Tate Publishing London, 2003
  • I am working here (in Amsterdam) on my last big triptych, which will be a tremendous story, and which gives me a more intense life and exhilaration. My God, life is worth living!
    • In: a letter to Stephan Lackner, Amsterdam, 1939; as quoted in Max Beckmann, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 5

1940s[edit]

  • The world is rather shot to pieces (end of World War II), 1945), but the spectators climb out of their caves and pretend to have again become normal and customary humans who ask each other’s pardon instead of eating one another or sucking each other’s blood. The entertaining folly of war evaporates, distinguished boredom sits down again on the dignified old overstuffed chairs.. ..May I report about myself that I have had a truly grotesque time, brim-full with work, Nazi persecutions, bombs, hunger, and again and again work – in spite of everything (using his bed sheets as canvas)
    • In: a letter to Stephan Lackner, Amsterdam, 27 August 1945, as quoted in Max Beckmann, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, pp. 80 + 86
  • Thick rumors of imminent peace are in the air.. ..Big spectacle with six or seven British tanks. In the afternoon, they played war once more at the Palaisplein (near Dam square in Amsterdam) and at the Rokin (street where Beckmann lived for 7 years – as a German under German occupation; The Netherlands was liberated by the Allies, 5 May 1945).
    • In: Max Beckmann, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 80
  • Arrival at break of dawn. Veiled giants stood sleepily in wet mist on Manhattan.. ..Yes, New York is really grandiose. But it stinks of burned fat, just like the sacrificial meal of the slain enemies among the savages. But nevertheless – crazy, crazy, crazy! Babylon is a kindergarten compared with this, and the tower of Babel here becomes the mass erection of a monstrous and senseless will. I am sympathetic.
    • In: Beckmann's diary-notes, New York, 8 and 9 September 1947; as quoted in Max Beckmann, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 89
  • And the evening of the big Vanity Fair arrived.. ..Perry Rathbone and innumerable people received me in enormous halls. The reporter shot pictures and Mrs Beckmann grinned – - o-la-La… …The whole story is a monumental caprice of my situation in Germany before the Nazi’s.
    • In: Beckmann's diary-notes, Saint Louis, 6 October 1947; as quoted in Max Beckmann, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 89
  • Learn by heart the forms to be found in nature, so that you can use them like the notes in a musical composition. That is what these forms are for. Nature is a marvellous chaos, and it is our job and our duty to bring order into that chaos and – to perfect it.
    • In: his lecture 'Drei Briefe an eine Malerin', New York and Boston, Spring 1948; as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 214
  • A human face, a hand, a woman’s breast or a manly body, an expression of conflicting joy and pain, the infinite ocean, savage crags, the melancholy speech of black trees against the snow, the fierce power of spring blossoms and the heavy lethargy of a hot summer noon when our old friend Pan is asleep and the ghost of noon are murmuring – all this is enough to make us forget the sorrows of the world, or to give them form. In any case the determination to give form to things brings with it part of the solution for which you are seeking. The path is hard and the goal can never be reached – but it is a path.
    • In: his lecture 'Drei Briefe an eine Malerin', New York and Boston, Spring 1948; as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 214
  • The metaphysics of substance. The strange feeling which comes over us when we sense: this is skin – this is bone – all in a single vision that is completely unearthly. The dreaminess of our existence mixed at the same time with the indescribably sweet illusion of reality.
    • In: Beckmann’s sketchbook - probably referring to his last triptych painting 'The Argonauts', he painted in 1950, the year he died.

External links[edit]

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