Last Friday, I was graced with the opportunity to see the recent Max Beckmann exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum. In all honesty, prior to this experience, I had never set eyes on Beckmann’s work first hand. Not knowing what to expect, I went without expectations. My first impression was that of awe. The vibrant colors of the compositions lacing the walls were indisputably stunning. The frantic and free fluidity of his brush strokes lend an impression of raw emotion rather than visual abstraction. Despite the relatively small collection of work on exhibit at the Van Gogh, it is not difficult to find yourself lost in the lofty museum halls for hours at end- examining with great scrutiny each minute detail. After roaming aimlessly around, I returned home hell-bent on learning more about the life lead by this unique artist, as I was quite perplexed as to why I knew so little about an individual who’s influence on the art world seemed profound. Although it was his paintings that initially elicited my interest, upon learning about the circumstances that delineated his existence and the philosophy behind his artistic approach, I was able to fully appreciate the distinctive nature of his work and stylistic vision.
Born in Germany, the prolific painter Max Beckmann can perhaps be best defined as an artist that swayed between realism and expression. Subsisting during the first half of the twentieth century, he was recognized during his lifetime as one Germany’s greatest painters amid the onslaught of the modernist movement. Straying from the stylistic constraints identification with a particular school or art movement can often render, Beckmann was influenced by the classics and the traditional forms of art that circumscribed his predecessors. Although it would seem as if portraits constitute a vast majority of his work, he also generated several still lives during his artistic career. Furthermore, his metaphysical perception of reality inspired a few paintings that can best be recognized by their allegorical imagery. His outlook on life was indisputably unparalleled, yet through contact with his paintings one is able to harness an insight into his artistic psyche. His ability to elegantly illustrate strips of his own reality on canvas leaves one with a fleeting impression of how the world must have been perceived through the eyes of a man void of aspirations outside of unbridled inspiration.