The Last Ones, Max Beckmann
Max Beckmann
The Last Ones
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Max Beckmann

The Last Ones, 1919

Sheet 9 of the series 'Hell'

843 x 603 mm
758 x 460 mm
Physical Description
Chalk lithograph (transfer) on simili Japan paper
Inventory Number
SG 3075
Object Number
SG 3075 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.

The Last Ones: It was in this composition that Beckmann responded most directly to the civil-war-like conditions in Germany during the council republic. A virtual antipode to the feeble sluggishness of ‘Patriotic Song’, this scene stages blind, unconditional aggression. A gang of civilians and men in uniform have entrenched themselves in a private flat to fight grimly to the last – their own demise.


  • 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":

Work Data

Basic Information

The Last Ones
Sheet 9 of the series 'Hell'
Die Hölle
Part Number / Total
10 / 11
Probedruck vor der Auflage von 75 Ex.
Period Produced
Object Type
Physical Description
Chalk lithograph (transfer) on simili Japan paper
Geographic Reference
Label at the Time of Manufacture
Bezeichnet unterhalb der Darstellung links (mit Bleistift): "Die Letzten" (Probedruck); gewidmet unterhalb der Darstellung rechts: Beckmann d. F. / 1919 d.[?] Juni
Captions Added Later
Verso Stempel der Städtischen Galerie, Frankfurt am Main (Lugt 2371c), mit zugehöriger Inventarnummer
  • Nicht vorhanden
Work Catalogues
  • Hofmaier 148 A
  • Gallwitz 122
  • Glaser 130
  • Beckmann-Liste 133

Property and Acquisition

Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Picture Copyright
Public Domain
Acquired in 1949 from the collection of Ugi and Fridel Battenberg

Work Content

Motifs and References


  • 31D14 adult man
  • 41A1 civic architecture; edifices; dwellings
  • 41A33 window
  • 31A22 parts of the human body (skeleton excepted)
  • 54AA4 Vehemence, Violence, Fierceness; 'Sforza con Inganno', 'Violenza' (Ripa)
  • 25I141 street
  • 41AA1 civic architecture; edifices; dwellings - AA - civic architecture: inside
  • 41A54 fence, wall, paling
  • 45A1 war
  • 45B the soldier; the soldier's life
  • 45C1 weapons
  • 45C21 (military) uniforms
  • 31E144 death of an adult person

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