American, born Russia
(Bialystock, Russia, 1881 - 1961, Great Neck, New York)
In 1906 the American photographer Edward Steichen arrived in Paris with the intention of exploring the new world of modern French painting. He discovered that a significant number of young American artists, including Max Weber, had made it there ahead of him. Weber became one of the most innovative painters of the early twentieth century, and with his eclectic style he planted some of the first seeds of the Modernism that would flower in American art.
Weber attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where the instructor Arthur Wesley Dow became an important early influence. Dow had immersed himself in the study of Japanese art and had assembled a collection of Japanese prints that he used in his teaching. Referring to these examples, Dow taught his students how to organize works of art in terms of pattern and line, arranged on a flat surface. Dow’s own decorative, lyrical compositions served as a frame of reference for Weber when he traveled to Paris to study at the Académie Julian in 1905.
In France, Weber immediately fell under the spell of the Modernist painters Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, and especially Henri Matisse, with whom he briefly studied. (1) Along with Matisse, the Cubists made the greatest impression on Weber, whose post-Paris paintings represent one of the earliest transmissions of this style to America. Weber returned to New York in 1909, and the following year he exhibited in Alfred Steiglitz’s exhibition “Younger American Painters” at the gallery “291.” (2) As a result of his experiences in Paris and his proximity in New York, Weber replaced Steichen as Stieglitz’s primary source of information about modern French painting. For example, Weber was instrumental in Stieglitz’s organization of an exhibition of Henri Rousseau’s work in 1910. The following year, Weber’s own Cubist-inspired works were featured in a solo show at “291,” an event that established his importance in America’s developing Modernist movement.(3)
Weber remained in touch with Picasso and owned one of his still-life paintings, but he did not work in a purely Cubist style. He absorbed and synthesized many influences. He admired Matisse and the other Fauve painters and, like Picasso, he was fascinated by African tribal arts, later adopting figural distortions inspired by the work of the German Expressionists. The art press followed Weber’s various stylistic evolutions for some forty years, and throughout his career he remained an influential figure in the New York art scene.
(1) The classes with Matisse were organized by Mrs. Michael (Sarah) Stein, the sister-in-law of Leo and Gertrude Stein. Many young American artists in Paris as this time gained access to Modernist art and artists through the Steins. See Barbara Haskell, The American Century, Art and Culture, 1900–1950 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1999), p. 93.
(2) Steichen had known Weber in Paris through association with a group of younger Americans known as the New Society of Younger American Artists. Ibid., p. 94.
(3) Ibid., p. 95.