Malepartus, Max Beckmann
Max Beckmann
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Max Beckmann

Malepartus, 1919

Sheet 7 of the series 'Hell'

847 x 609 mm
690 x 422 mm
Physical Description
Chalk lithograph (transfer) on simili Japan paper
Inventory Number
SG 3068
Object Number
SG 3068 D
Acquired in 1949 from the collection of Ugi and Fridel Battenberg
Can be presented in the study room of the Graphische Sammlung (special opening hours)


About the Work

It was by way of drawing, etching and lithography that Beckmann developed his distinctive formal language during his early years in Frankfurt. Angular, reductive forms now came to define the pictorial structure. The artist broke up the space in virtually cubist manner, introducing perspectival warps and distorted dimensions that created a quality of dynamic instability. Within about fifteen years, Beckmann produced a rich printmaking oeuvre of exceptional intensity. A key work by the artist in that medium is the lithographic series ‘Hell’.

‘Hell’ mirrors Beckmann’s experience of the world after World War I in ten compositions and one title page. Caught firmly in the grip of inflation and economic hardship, Germany was a tinderbox until the proclamation of the Weimar Republic in November 1919. Civil-war-like conditions prevailed in many places, including Frankfurt – but also Berlin, a city Beckmann visited in March 1919. It was this state of affairs that provided the impulse for ‘Hell’.

In these images Beckmann portrays a deeply traumatized society – unsparingly, but without moral indictment. He depicts the human being as brutalized and mutilated, obsessed with merrymaking and murder, disillusioned, hungry and devoid of hope. “For the world is Hell”, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer – whose works Beckmann devoured – had concluded in 1851, “and men are on the one hand the tormented souls and on the other the devils in it.” (Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Suffering of the World, London 2004, p. 15.) The Hell Beckmann portrays is like Schopenhauer’s in that there is no escaping it. His cycle depicts human drama as “scene[s] in the theatre of the eternal” (Max Beckmann, diary entry of 12 September 1940, ibid., Tagebücher, 1940–1950, Munich 1979, p. 310).

Especially during his Frankfurt years, the motifs of the stage, funfair and circus served Beckmann as metaphors for the world. ‘Hell’, for example, begins with a self-portrait of the artist as a fairground crier touting a “grand spectacle”. Only then do the individual images follow: claustrophobically interleaving spaces and oppressively close-up scenes viewed from abruptly shifting perspectives. Elements of reality are inextricably intertwined with the visionary and symbolic.

Beckmann executed the ‘Hell’ compositions in chalk on paper in a format clearly characterizing them as major artworks. They were then transferred to lithographic stones by way of a special process and printed by the C. Naumann company in Frankfurt. The gallerist Jsrael Ber Neumann, with whom Beckmann had been acquainted since 1912, acted as publisher. He had just opened his “Graphisches Kabinett” in Berlin the previous year, at the age of twenty-two. This establishment soon advanced to become one of the most influential galleries for German Expressionism. When Beckmann showed him the chalk drawings for ‘Hell’ in June 1919, Neumann spontaneously purchased the series. “Never”, the gallerist later recalled, “had I seen art of such venom, such bitterness.” (Jsrael Ber Neumann, “Sorrow and Champagne”, quoted from the original typescript in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, J. B. Neumann Papers, II.B.1.b, p. 8.

Malepartus: “Malepartus” (“Maleperduis” in English) is actually the name of Reynard the Fox’s hideaway in the fables about that character. Between the wars, it was also the name of a nightclub in Frankfurt am Main. Beckmann will have chosen it as the title of this print precisely because of its double meaning. Jagged, angular lines describe the dancers’ movements and the rhythms of the combo in the background. The result is a scene that looks agitated, hectic and anything but pleasurable.


Städels Beckmann / Beckmanns Städel. Die Jahre in Frankfurt
Max Beckmann (1884–1950) ist wie kaum ein anderer Künstler mit dem Städel Museum und Frankfurt verbunden. Er verbrachte die längste und wichtigste Zeit seines Lebens in Frankfurt, schuf hier einen Großteil seiner zentralen Werke und entwickelte den für ihn charakteristischen Stil. Das Städel Museum befasst sich seit fast einem Jahrhundert intensiv mit dem Sammeln und der Erforschung seines Œuvres. In dem Film zur Ausstellung „Städels Beckmann / Beckmanns Städel. Die Jahre in Frankfurt“ gehen die Kuratoren der Frage nach wie sich die Sammlung Beckmanns am Städel entwickelte und wie er in Frankfurt zu seinem charakteristischen Stil fand. Mehr Infos zur Ausstellung "Städels Beckmann / Beckmanns Städel. Die Jahre in Frankfurt":

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