The cultivation of class identity in Max Beckmann's Wilhelmine and Weimar-Era portraiture

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Arts & Architecture


Modern German painter, Max Beckmann (b. 1884 -1950), painted almost eight-five self-portraits throughout his life. His devotion to self-portraiture produced many testimonies to artistic and personal introspection. In 1914, at the age of thirty, Beckmann volunteered as a medical orderly in World War I and was later discharged after having a nervous breakdown. Because of Beckmann's involvement in WWI, many scholars have interpreted his self-portraiture according to the role WWI played in his art and identity, along with other prominent roles in Beckmann's self-portraits such as the circus, music, and masquerades. The scholarly emphasis on these themes has obscured the role that social-class may have played in Beckmann's self-portraiture. This paper examines how Beckmann used self-portraiture as a sophisticated vehicle to convey aspirational class-identity. The study set includes Beckmann's early self-portraiture from Wilhelmine, Germany (1890-1918) and the later Weimar-Era Germany (1919-1933) to interpret the function that social mobility played in Beckmann's self-portraiture. The paper uses a combination of primary sources, visual analysis, and recent scholarship to analyze Beckmann's self-portraits from the Wilhelmine- and Weimar-Eras and their appearance in his multi-figural works painted before the war to consider the role class identity played in his artistic oeuvre. Since he produced self-portraits both before and after the war, this may also help scholars establish a rare, but important continuity in Beckmann's artistic project and complicate our understanding of Beckmann in the New Objectivity Movement.




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