Max Beckmann, Self-Portrait in Tuxedo


“Everything intellectual and transcendent is joined together in painting by the uninterrupted labour of the eyes. Each shade of a flower, a face, a tree, a fruit, a sea, a mountain, is noted eagerly by the intensity of the senses to which is added, in a way of which we are not conscious, the work of the mind, and in the end the strength or weakness of the soul. It is this genuine, eternally unchanging center of strength which makes mind and senses capable of expressing personal things. It is the strength of soul which forces the mind to constant exercise to widen its conception of space.”
― Max Beckmann, On My Painting

“It is the quest of our self that drives us along the eternal and never-ending journey we must all make.”

“Often, very often, I am alone. My studio in Amsterdam, [Beckmann lived and worked in the heart of Amsterdam during World War 2.] an enormous old tobacco storeroom is again filled in my imagination with figures from the old days and from the new, like an ocean moved by storm and sun and always present in my thoughts. Then shapes become beings and seem comprehensible to me in the great void and uncertainty of the space which I call god.”

“Painting is a very difficult thing. It absorbs the whole man, body and soul – thus I have passed blindly many things which belong to the real and political life. I assume, though, that there are two worlds: the world of spiritual life and the world of political reality. Both are manifestations of life which may sometimes coincide but are very different in principle. I must leave it to you [the audience] to decide which is the more important.”

“Imagination is perhaps the most decisive characteristic of mankind. My dream is the imagination of space – to change the optical impression of the world of objects by a transcendental arithmetic progression of the inner being. Whether such alteration causes excitement or boredom in the spectator is for you to decide.”

“One thing is sure – we have to transform the three-dimensional world of objects into the two-dimensional world of the canvas.. .To transform three into two dimensions is for me an experience full of magic in which I glimpse for a moment that fourth dimension which my whole being is seeking.”

“My aim is always to get hold of the magic of reality and to transfer this reality in painting – to make the invisible visible through reality…What helps me most in this task is the penetration of space. Height, width and depth are the three phenomena which I must transfer into one plane to form the abstract surface of the picture, and thus to protect myself from the infinity of space. My figures come and go, suggested by fortune or misfortune. I try to fix them divested of their apparent accidental quality.”
Quotes from: republished text of Beckmann’s public speech during the exhibition ‘Twentieth-Century German Art’ in London, 21 July 1938; Max Beckmann – On my Painting, Tate Publishing London, 2003


“Oh I wish that I could paint again. Paint is an instrument without which I cannot survive for any length of time. Whenever I even think of gray, green and white, I am overcome with quivers of lust. Then I wish that this war would end and that I might paint again.”

“I have never, God or whatever knows, prostrated myself to be famous, but I would meander through all the sewers of the world, through all degradation and humiliations, in order to paint. I have to do this. Until the last drop every vision that exists in my being must be purged; then it will be a pleasure for me to be rid of this damned torture.”

“Yesterday we came across a cemetery that had been completely destroyed by shellfire. The graves had been blown up, and the coffins lay about in the most uncomfortable positions. The shells had unceremoniously exposed their distinguished occupants to the light of day, and bones, hair, and bits of clothing could be seen through cracks in the burst-open coffins.”

Quotes in italics from Beckmann’s letter to his first wife Minna, from the front, first World war, 1915; as quoted in Max Beckmann, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983

thanks to Wikiquotes



Max Beckmann, “Self-portrait With Red Scarf” (1917)



Large Still Life with Telescope 1927

“What is important to me in my work is the identity that is hidden behind so-called reality. I search for a bridge from the given present tot the invisible, rather as a famous cabalist once said, ‘If you wish to grasp the invisible, penetrate as deeply as possible into the visible’.”
In his public speech ‘On my painting’, for the exhibition ‘Twentieth-Century German Art’, London, 21 July 1938; as quoted in Max Beckmann, Stephan Lackner, Bonfini Press Corporation, Naefels, Switzerland, 1983, p. 77

max beckmann paintings - Mr Parlanchin and the jealous dog

Mr Parlanchin and the Jealous Dog


“Put the picture away or, preferably, send it back to me, dear Valentin. If people cannot understand it is based on their inner engagement with these matters, then there is no point in showing the thing at all.”
In a letter to his art-dealer Curt Valentin, Amsterdam, 11 February 1938; 


Brooklyn Museum Art School Catalog, 1950-1951
Max Beckmann (foreground), Mel Tanner (far right)
photo courtesy of The Brooklyn Museum

Mel Tanner told me that Max Beckmann did not speak English and his wife translated to the students at The Brooklyn Museum Art School.

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