Max Beckmann was obsessed with painting. He wanted to use it to capture “the mystery of being”. “I would crawl through all the sewers in the world in order to paint”, he wrote to his wife in 1915. With his own “dreadful, vital sensuousness” he penetrated the visible world and, by artistic means, revealed the truths lying behind it.
The First World War and the horrors he experienced first-hand as a medical orderly left him disillusioned. What happened to compassion or altruism, where was God? From that point on, catastrophes and failure became an important part of his oeuvre.
The painter rejected abstraction, which many of his contemporaries devoted themselves to. His works are bursting with expressiveness. He painted using a new, radical figurative method: angular, cold and with clear contours. His strict composition lends the paintings something inescapable – fitting to the authoritarian powers of his time. He used black lines as grids for his compositions, and they later appear in the foreground as the outlines typical of Beckman’s work, giving his figures their harshness and intensity. Over the course of time the painter, who is often classified as an expressionist, began to combine an increasing number of painting methods in one work. As result, thin glazes, which make use of the structure of the canvas as a design element, are next to areas thick with paint – some matt, some glossy, depending upon use of turpentine.