Max Beckmann’s “The Night” painting is one of the iconic works from the post-World War I movement Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity. Created between 1918 and 1919, the artist aimed to portray the dark heart of World War I and explore the trials and tribulations of the human condition. The artwork depicts a woman performing an involuntary split, while being menaced by a candle, and another woman swept off her feet by a monkey-like sadist committing rape. The chaotic and unsettling nature of this painting is characteristic of Neue Sachlichkeit.
Beckmann was an influential German painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, and writer associated with New Objectivity. He rejected both Expressionism as well as his initial enthusiasm for fighting in World War I. Despite displacement from his home during that time, he remained incredibly productive throughout it all while living in Amsterdam. In August 1947 he received an offer for a teaching position at Washington University’s School of Fine Arts.
“The Night” painting is considered to be one of Beckmann’s most powerful works portraying life during war-time Germany. Housed today at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf (Germany), its unsettling compositions showcase Neue Sachlichkeit remarkably well – with influences believed to have inspired contemporary artists like George Grosz and Otto Dix among others.
Overall this work abstractly expresses not only what it was like living through such trying times afflicted by war — but also how difficult things can ultimately become when faced with unspeakable horrors such as those Beckmann witnessed himself firsthand on battlefields abroad during World War One; thus today making “The Night” more poignant than ever before in its depiction thereof!