“Beckmann is hardly conceivable without Berlin. […] Just as people speak of Renoir and Paris, so they will one day sense what Beckmann and Berlin have in common. Berlin means struggle, tragedy, naked existence, will, energy, brutality, strength, nerve and spirit. Culture always signifies calm, certainty and tradition. Berlin has none of that.” Even in the 1910s, Max Beckmann already had a reputation for depicting urban Berlin. The artist himself commented in 1918: “Peasants and landscape are no doubt a very pretty thing, and fine for the occasional spot of relaxation. But the great orchestra of humanity is the city.”

Beckmann’s enthusiasm for Berlin and modern city life predated that of the Expressionists: “Did the sketch for a scene from Friedrichstr[asse] that I noticed on the way home last night,” he told his diary in 1909. “Men turning as they walk to watch a couple of whores. [.]. Hoping to inject something of the twitch, the magnetic clash of the sexes.” Until the outbreak of the First World War, Beckmann was an objective observer and drew his style from Impressionism.

Not until that great folder “Hell” in 1918/19 does Beckmann give way to an emotional, subjective view of Berlin. He finds his themes in the brutal reality of the immediate post-war years. The prints show fragmented forms, distorted perspectives, everything seems to sway and fall. A world out of joint, full of violence, crime, hunger and poverty. His Berlin art dealer J. B. Neumann, who published “Hell”, recognised that the demonic force behind these works had its own credentials: “We have Dante’s ‘Inferno’ and the Hell of Bosch and Brueghel. Why not Beckmann […].”

In “The Street”, painted in 1914, the Berlinische Galerie owns a key work by the early Beckmann. This and other urban scenes are on show at the exhibition Max Beckmann and Berlin.

Read more stories about Max Beckmann here.


Berlinische Galerie

Landesmuseum für Moderne
Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur
Stiftung Öffentlichen Rechts

Alte Jakobstraße 124–128
10969 Berlin Germany


Tel +49 (0)30-789 02-600
Fax +49 (0)30-789 02-700

Opening hours

Wednesday–Monday 10 am–6 pm

Closed on 24.12. and 31.12.

Floor plan

PDF Floor Plan