From Circulating Now by Ginny A. Roth:
Max Beckmann, 1884–1950, was a painter and print-maker, primarily known for his self-portraits. Although Beckmann railed against being tagged as belonging to any art movement, he is most commonly classified as an Expressionist artist, until his work dramatically changed in the 1920s.
Expressionism was a movement that developed in Germany and thrived between 1905 and 1920 as a reaction to the rapid growth and industrialization of cities. Expressionist artists created their work based on a subjective view of the world; a world that reflected the emotions of the artist himself. It was a departure from Impressionism, a style whose proponents worked to capture the objective reality they saw. But Expressionists were not looking to capture reality. They rejected realism and embraced the emotion, fear, turmoil, and human emotion within that reality. Expressionism became dominant in Germany following World War I, “where it suited the postwar atmosphere of cynicism, alienation, and disillusionment.”
Max Beckmann volunteered in the Medical Corps in Belgium as an orderly at the start of World War I in 1914. He was discharged after having a nervous breakdown in 1915, which led to the dramatic transformation of how he depicted himself and humanity in his art. Through his post-war art he sought to save the ”injuries of the soul” he suffered during his service. His trauma led him to create haunting, expressive figures using techniques of distortion and extreme angularity once he returned to civilian life.