Max Weber was one of the most innovative of the early modernist painters. Born in Bialystok, Russia, Weber emigrated to New York in 1891. After studying art at the Pratt Institute between 1898 and 1900 with Arthur Wesley Dow, Weber found employment as a drawing teacher in Virginia and Minnesota schools. In 1905, he left for Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian. Immersing himself in the art of the Parisian avant-garde, he met Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, with whom he studied for a brief period. Weber was intrigued by the paintings of Henri Rousseau and also by the fauve movement, by brilliant colors and bold, flat patterns. Weber returned to New York in 1909 and allied himself with Alfred Stieglitz' gallery 291, helping to organize an exhibition of Rousseau's paintings there the following year.
Weber's eclectic style of painting synthesizes elements of different modernist vocabularies to which he was exposed both in Paris and New York. Until the early 1920s Weber's art was relatively abstract, characterized by the formal composition and the fractured planes of cubism and futurism. Later, he abandoned cubist abstractions in favor of angular, distorted figural compositions that owe much to German expressionism. Throughout, his work often incorporates the vibrant colors and expressiveness of fauvism. In the 1930s, Weber turned to Hebrew subjects and poignant scenes of Jewish life, perhaps recalling childhood experiences. His interest in religious imagery and exploring spiritual themes persisted for the rest of his life. Always an active member of the artistic community, Weber published Essays on Art in 1916 and also led the powerful American Arts Congress in 1937.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art.]