By Vera Tashima
Upon entering the Max Beckmann exhibit to view 40 prints (graphic art) one might say “how depressing!” It certainly requires a much deeper look at the pictures on the wall. Beckmann was one of those artists caught between WW I and WW II. This exhibition primarily shows Beckmann’s work from 1911 through 1923. I would say that two of my favorite pieces are his Woman with Candle from 1920 and his woodcut Self-Portrait from 1922.
The Woman with the Candle is his first wife, Minna, whom he had a son with. I love the Gothic manner in which he portrays her, and the symbolism of the candle burning down and the shortness of life. He was said to be especially fond of her long neck, which he highlights here. The Self-Portrait from 1922 also gives great insight into his character and the woodcut brings out his angular features and shows his determined spirit. His idol was Rembrandt, so it is interesting that he too did many self portraits in his lifetime.
He insisted on not being grouped with German Expressionism and felt he stood on his own. His forms, expressively distorted in an almost German Gothic manner, were deeply influenced by him joining WW I. Not wanting to kill, he joined as a medical orderly and was profoundly moved by the devastation of Germany upon the close of the war. It is not surprising then why this sensitive artist was known for portrayal of brutal realism and social criticism in his art.