Celebrate 133 Years With American Cubist Painter, Max Weber

max weber

On this day, celebrate the artwork of American Cubist painter, Max Weber. Born in 1881, the artist was one of the first to bring the modernist movement to the United States. A Russian émigré of modest origins, Weber was born in Bialystok, Russia. His family settled in Brooklyn, New York when Weber was 10 years old.

He attended Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, studying under painter-printmaker, Arthur Wesley Dow. A prominent arts instructor with innovative ideas, Dow, who had learned from Paul Gauguin, advocated that artists should apply “flat masses of color” and linear elements as opposed to merely replicating nature.

In 1905, Weber traveled to Paris, where he studied under Henri Matisse and was acquainted with the beginnings of the Fauve and Cubist styles. Matisse was a member of the Fauves, an artist group whose work was depicted in bold, non-naturalistic, color for expressive effects. Weber’s work began to reflect the same bold colors and form as seen in his 1907 work, My Studio in Paris.

While in Paris, Max Weber met Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Henri Rousseau. He attended the celebrated salons at Gertrude Stein’s apartment and familiarized himself with African art. Weber also came across paintings by French painter, Paul Cézanne, whose application of geometric elements and tilted planes suggested solid forms. Cézanne’s work profoundly affected Weber’s artistic style throughout his career.

Out of money, Weber returned to New York in 1909. Though broke, he brought back the first paintings by Rousseau and Picasso to come to America. He also had the earliest African sculptures seen in the states. With his new art collection mixed with his own fresh interpretations, Weber, in essence, transformed American art.

max weber

Back in the states, he fostered his own concept of Cubism fused with the artistic styles of other cultures – Mayan, Egyptian, Aztec, Greek, Oceanic and northern Pacific – and in African art. Max Weber became one of the first American artists to employ these varied approaches to printmaking, frequently using color when black and white prints were pervasive in American art.

He approached Cubism by portraying a subject from numerous, concurrent viewpoints. One of his earliest works, Standing Nude with Upraised Arm shows Weber’s mastery. The extended features and formal pose were indicative of ancient Egyptian art, yet Weber rendered volume traditionally with tone gradations.

A few years later, Weber was less concerned with representing volume and more with condensing forms to geometric elements as seen in Dancer in Green, one of the earliest examples of American Cubism.

In 1913, Max Weber and other modernists turned their attention to the city as their subject. The artist’s Interior of the Fourth Dimension conceptualized on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity evoked the city through multi-layers of “cubist scaffolding.”  By this time, Weber had become well-versed in the Cubist style, relating his work to artists such as Marcel Duchamp. He became fascinated with representing movement as seen in Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 with his Rush Hour, New York. This work divides the picture plane into diagonal bits of rushing city life, echoing the Italian Futurists. Unlike Cezanne or the static landscapes from that period, Weber’s painting had “kinetic energy” and showed the fast-moving city life.

Weber taught at the Clarence H. White School of Photography in New York from 1914 through 1918. The paintings during that period reflect his exposures to occurrences such as illuminated stages at music and dance performances, and a darkened auditorium during a slide talk. In a 1915 newspaper article, he revealed that his artistic intention was to convey not what he observed with his eye, but with his consciousness … “mental impressions, not mere literal matter-of-fact” replication of line and form. He stated that he desired to “put the abstract into concrete terms.”

During the 20s, Weber’s work paid tribute to the artists he met in Paris such as Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne and Henri Rousseau, in addition to African art. Subsequently, in the 30s, Weber acquired a consistently identifiable style that concentrated on idyllic landscapes, poignant religious themes and unassuming domestic scenes. In Weber’s 1946 oil painting, The Bathers, the artist’s brazen nudes and rugged sensuality is reminiscent of Matisse’s 1907 The Bathers and Cézanne’s paintings on similar subjects.

As a prominent figure in American art, Weber was not only a painter in oils, but also a printmaker, sculptor, watercolorist and poet.  He became one of America’s earliest modernists, enjoying an extensive art career that observed numerous stylistic changes. The talented artist developed a sophisticated amalgam by aptly applying Matisse’s color harmonies, embracing Picasso’s early Cubism and conforming to the spatial ambiguity of Cézanne. He was artistically involved until the end of his life in furthering the advancement, appreciation, and expression of modern art in America. The celebrated Max Weber continued to conscientiously create in various mediums, including painting, sculpture and graphic work until his death in 1961.

By: Dawn Levesque

Antiques and the Arts Weekly
National Gallery of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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