Max Weber was an American Jewish artist considered to be one of the pioneers of modernism in America. He was born on April 18, 1881, in Bialystok, Russia (now Poland), to an orthodox Jewish family. His family immigrated to Brooklyn, New York in 1891. From 1898 to 1900, Weber was enrolled at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. There he studied under Arthur Wesley Dow, noted painter and printmaker, who taught him to see forms as visual relationships rather than objects. From 1901 to 1905, Weber taught art at public schools in Lynchburg, Virginia and Duluth, Minnesota.
In September 1905, Weber moved to Paris and studied at the Académie Julian under Jean Paul Laurens, the Académie Colarossi, and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In 1908, he participated in a small class at Matisse’s newly opened academy. While in Paris, Weber frequented the Paris Salon retrospectives of Cézanne and Gauguin (both in 1907) as well as the studios of Matisse and Picasso. He also visited Gertrude Stein’s salon and was a close friend of Henri Rousseau. During this time, Weber was greatly influenced by Cubist artists Pablo Picasso and George Braque and his work was exhibited in the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne.
Weber returned to New York in 1909, bringing to America a knowledge of European modernist developments, including its dynamism, abstraction, and emotion. For a short period, Alfred Stieglitz, whose Gallery 291 promoted European and American modernism, supported Weber. As an influential member of the Stieglitz group, Weber became one of America’s first important modernist artists. He was also one of the first American artists to focus on the Indians of the American Southwest. In 1913, Weber’s one-man exhibition at the Newark Museum was the first modernist exhibition at an American museum.
Following a rocky relationship, Weber severed ties with Stieglitz and began to support himself by teaching at the Clarence H. White School of Photography (1914) and later at the Art Students League (1920–1921 and 1925–1927). In 1928 he was selected to be the director of the Society of Independent Artists and in 1930 his work was selected for a one-person exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of its inaugural year. From 1937 to 1940, Weber served as the national chairman and honorary national chairman of the American Artists’ Congress.
Throughout Weber’s long career, his style changed and evolved. He experimented with Fauvism, Cubism, Dynamism, Expressionism, and Futurism as well as with revolutionary techniques from Europe, which he learned during his time in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century. During the 1920’s his work reflected the influence of European artists like Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Rousseau as well as of tribal African art. He also dabbled in different mediums – oil, watercolor, printmaking and sculpture.
After 1930, Weber developed an identifiable style described as lyrical and Expressionistic. His paintings depicted romanticized landscapes, peaceful domestic scenes, and emotional religious themes, often reflecting the spiritualism of the artist’s religion. Weber’s work during the 1930’s also sometimes focused on social issues and reflected his left-wing political tendencies, especially seen in his factory portrayals.