One of the great Expressionist books


Stadtnacht [= Nightlife]. Sieben Lithographien von Max Beckmann zu Gedichten von Lili von Braunbehrens.

München, R. Piper & Co. Verlag, 1921 (Herbst 1920).

4to, original grey cloth over decorated paper boards in shades of yellow, grey, and beige, spine titled in black. 47 pp., 1 unnumbered leaf of imprint, 1 blank leaf, 7 splendid original lithographs in black by Max Beckmann (1884-1950), one of the major representatives of the “New Objectivity” along with Otto Dix and George Grosz. Complete.

First edition limited to 600 copies. One of 500 copies on laid paper numbered 1-500 signed in pencil by the artist below the justification.

One of the great German Expressionist books.

Convalescing in Frankfurt after a nervous breakdown during the First World War, Max Beckmann became friends with Lili von Braunbehrens (1894-1982), the daughter of an officer who had facilitated his demobilisation. Lili, almost blind, described the impressions of her nocturnal wanderings through Frankfurt in twenty poems published here under the title “Nightlife” [Stadtnacht] by Reinhard Piper at Beckmann’s request. For the collection, he illustrated the title page and six poems. The volume opens with a gruesome murder, seen through the window of a cheap apartment building. Another lithograph shows the rejoicings of a group of nouveau riches, apparently unaware of the prevailing economic and social collapse. The other plates depict the despair of working-class life. In most of them, the characters overflow into cramped and distorted spaces, accentuating the feeling of alienation and loneliness. In the illustration for the poem “Verbitterung” (Bitterness), Beckmann depicts himself looking out at the street through an apartment window, isolated from all human contact. Throughout Stadtnacht, the artist uses Expressionist techniques of distortion and exaggeration to highlight the failures of post-war society (MoMA).

Often considered one of the most important history painters of his generation, Max Beckmann never ceased to interpret the events he was confronted with in a Europe shaken by war and the rise of Nazism without, however, claiming to give an objective image of reality. After training at the Weimar School of Fine Arts, he moved to Berlin: his first works, influenced by Munch or Van Gogh, had already freed themselves from the tradition of realistic and narrative painting while asserting their independence from the artistic avant-gardes. The experience of the First World War acted on him as the trigger for a new formal language, based on the refusal of the anecdote and the distancing of the horrors he drew through deconstructed compositions. With the rise of extremism that accompanied the post-war period, Max Beckmann sought to evoke the social violence that was tearing Germany apart. Now with an international reputation, the artist was, however, forced to flee his country after Hitler’s speeches on “degenerate art” and took refuge in Holland and the United States: a forced exile which he transcribed in his paintings “Le Libéré” (1937) or “La Ville” (1950), characterised by marked colours and the recurrence of the theme of isolation.

A very good copy.

Ref. James Hofmaier, Max Beckmann. Catalogue raisonné of his prints, Bern 1990, Nr. 164c-170c / Ralph Jentsch, Illustrierte Bücher des deutschen Expressionismus, 108