BECKMANN Max
German painter born in Leipzig in 1884, died in New York in 1950. From 1906 on Beckmann was part of the artistic life of Berlin. He remained attached to German Impressionism and also, though less openly, to the symbolism of Marées. Most of his work, however, the moving portrayal of human nature, was painted after his experiences on the battlefields from 1914 to 1918. In 1933 political persecution forced him to flee from Frankfurt, where he had been living for a long time, to Berlin and then to Amsterdam in 1936. In 1947 he left for the United States, where he died some three years later. The main subject of his work was the human figure in all the glory of its vital force, and the misery of its debasement. He was trying -- to quote him -- to enclose man, 'monster of such terrifying, convulsive vitality', in a structure of planes and lines. His vigorously constructed compositions of 1920 thus become nightmarish visions in which women, in all the crudity of their physique, cripples squatting on their maimed stumps, and bloated characters, jostle one another in horrible carnival masquerades. During the following years, as his memories of the war grew fainter, other human realities came to the fore: landscapes and still lifes, portraits and nudes. These landscapes and objects also have a haunting vitality. The man in the portraits -- it was his own face that Beckmann kept on scrutinizing endlessly -- remains brutal and enigmatic; the woman is elemental, often brazen, sometimes tender. At this time, his increasing contact with French painters helped Beckmann to acquire a new breadth and greater simplicity of expression, without in any way changing the basic structure of his art. A more fastidious art with freer colours and deeper blacks began in 1932 and was developed during his years of exile. The principal works of this last period were seven immense triptychs, and paintings like The Trailer, which are stamped with a complex symbolism. In the triptychs, Departure ( 1932-1935), Hide-and-Seek ( 1945), and The Argonauts ( 1949-1950), the enigma of our existence is expressed in allegorical language which, at times, attain an intensity and a force that actually have a physical effect on the spectator.
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