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b. 1884, Leipzig, Germany; d. 1950, New York City
Max Beckmann was born February 12, 1884, in Leipzig, Germany. He began to study art with Carl Frithjof Smith at the Grossherzogliche Kunstschule, Weimar, in 1900 and made his first visit to Paris in 1903–04. During this period, Beckmann began his lifelong practice of keeping a diary, or Tagebuch. In the fall of 1904 he settled in Berlin.
In 1912 the artist’s first solo shows took place at the Kunstverein, Magdeburg, and the Grossherzogliches Museum für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe, Weimar. He volunteered for the German army medical corps in 1914, but was discharged for reasons of health the following year and settled in Frankfurt. In 1925 Beckmann’s work was included in the Neue Sachlichkeit exhibition at the Städtisches Kunsthalle, Mannheim, and he was appointed professor at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt. His first show in the United States took place at J. B. Neumann’s New Art Circle, New York, in 1926. A large retrospective of his work was held at the Städtisches Kunsthalle, Mannheim, in 1928. From 1929 to 1932 he continued to teach in Frankfurt but spent time in Paris during the winters. It was in these years that Beckmann began to use the triptych format. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Beckmann lost his teaching position and moved to Berlin. In 1937 his work was included in Entartete Kunst, the Nazi exhibition of so-called “degenerate art.” The day after the show opened in July in Munich, the artist left Germany for Amsterdam, where he remained until 1947. In 1938 he had the first of numerous exhibitions at Curt Valentin’s Buchholz Gallery, New York.
Beckmann traveled to Paris and the south of France in 1947 and later that year went to the United States to teach at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University, Saint Louis. The first Beckmann retrospective in the United States took place in 1948 at the City Art Museum, Saint Louis. The artist taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder, during the summer of 1949 and the following fall at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. That year the artist was awarded first prize in the exhibition Painting in the United States, 1949 at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh. He died on December 27, 1950, in New York.