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Max Weber

Max Weber (1881---1961) was born in Bialystok/Byalostol Poland, then in Russia to Orthodox Jewish parents. In 1891, he came to the United States with his mother and brother to join their father in Brooklyn.  By 1897, he graduated high school and began his studies of art at the Pratt Institute in New York with Wesley Dow, a proponent of the new. Teaching followed in 1900 at Lynchburg, Virginia and Duluth, Minnesota for two years each. He thus saved enough money to get to his destination, Paris in 1905. While he studied at three Academies, it was the exhibit at the Salon d’Automne in 1906/7 of the work of Paul Cézanne that he absorbed, as well as that of Henri Matisse with whom he gained color in the Académie Matisse in 1908 with a few others, Pablo Picasso with whom he had a direct connection [1], Henri Rousseau, and the Stein’s.  Paris was an explosion of exploration of visual arts from Africa and Asia where the use of space was quite different from the Western idea of creating a window onto the flat canvas.

With other American artists, he formed the New Society of American Artists in Paris in 1908. The Society met at the studio of Edward Steichen [2].  Once the connection with Steichen occurred, Steichen’s partner in New York, Alfred Stieglitz came to show avant garde art in his Gallery 291 (founded 1905 and closed at the end of World War I in 1917). There Americans could investigate the extraordinary paintings and sculpture being created in Europe. Weber was instrumental in organizing, both for Rousseau and Picasso, their first one man shows in America at Gallery 291.

Weber was the most progressively modern American artist. From Paris he knew and used Fauve, Cubist, and Futurist art ideas in his work. Composition with Three Figures from 1910 witnesses his absorption of African sculpture and Cubism. That same year he began sculpting and was in the famous show, Younger American Painters at 291. While he was twice shown in Paris in the Salon d’Automne, after a dispute he pulled out of the famous Armory Show of 1913 in New York. Though in that same year, he was the first American modernist to be given a museum solo show at the Newark Museum. By 1930, Weber was given a Retrospective at MOMA (Museum of Modern Art in New York). Three of his writings were published. In 1914, Cubist Poems; in 1916, Essays on Art, and finally in 1926, Primitives: Poems and Woodcuts [3].

Two well-known paintings are both from 1915, The Chinese Restaurant and Rush Hour, New YorkRush Hour is a restless angular futurist depiction that evokes the noise and rapid movement of traffic in a skyscraper city. Chinese Restaurant is composed of collage materials in a Synthetic Cubist manner showing the various aspects of experience. 

He wrote, “On entering a Chinese restaurant from the darkness of night outside, a maze and blaze of light seemed to split into fragments the interior and its contents….” [4]

Instrumental in many important art organizations, he was involved in the American Artists’ Congress, taught at the Art Students League of New York summer school with photographer Clarence White at Georgetown Island in Maine [5]. His most famous student is Mark Rothko.

Max Weber was a restless artist who worked in many styles. His modern art drew hateful critical commentary but revolutionized American art. Whether it was restlessness or something else, his work began to gradually change toward an expressionist style from the 20’s through the 40’s, concentrating more and more on Jewish subject matter from his heritage [6]

During the time period of Margaret Lefranc and Anna Walinska’s Guild Art Gallery of 1935---1937, Jewish art collectors Herman Shulman and his wife Rebecca Beldner, bought from the Guild. When Herman died, Rebecca donated twelve paintings, including Max Weber’s, Synagogue Interior, to the Israeli Government [7]. Other artists pursued abstraction to non-objectivity. Weber was not one of them. 

[1] Annie Cohen-Solal, Painting American:  The Rise of American Artists:  Paris 1867-New York 1948, (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2001), p. 201.

[2] Wayne Craven, American Art History & Culture, (McGraw-Hill revised 1st edition, London, 2003), p. 446.


[4] Michael J. Lewis, American Art and Architecture, (Thames & Hudson, London, 2006), p.210

[5] Wayne Craven, p.473.


[7] Andrea Pappas, “In Search of a Jewish Audience:  New York’s Guild Art Gallery, 1935---1937.”  Journal of American Jewish History. 98, No. 4 (October 1014):  263---288, p. 284. 


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