Max Weber (b Belostok, Russia [now Białystok, Poland], 18 April 1881; d Great Neck, NY, 4 Oct 1961), painter, printmaker, sculptor and writer of Russian birth. He was born of Orthodox Jewish parents and in 1891 immigrated with his family to America. After settling in Brooklyn, NY, Weber attended the Pratt Institute (1898–1900), where he studied art theory and design under Arthur Wesley Dow. Dow's extensive knowledge of European and Far Eastern art history, together with his theories of composition, made a lasting impression on Weber. Weber was in Paris from 1905 to 1908 and studied briefly at the Académie Julian. He developed a close friendship with Henri Rousseau (1844–1910) and helped to organize a class with Henri Matisse (1869–1954) as its instructor. Visits to the ethnographic collections in the Trocadéro and other Parisian museums extended his sensitivity to non-Western art, while travels through Spain, Italy and the Netherlands broadened his knowledge of the Old Masters.
For several years following his return to America in January 1909, Weber's art consisted largely of still lifes and nudes in the landscape, which gave strong evidence of his assimilation of Matisse's theories of decorative harmony and the primitivism evident in the work of Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). By 1910 Weber was contributing articles on art and color theory to Alfred Stieglitz's pioneering journal, Camera Work, and in that year arranged the first one-man show of the work of Henri Rousseau in the USA at Stieglitz's 291 gallery. Stieglitz was one of the first to recognize Weber's talent and in 1911 gave him his second one-man exhibition. In 1914 Weber published his first volume of poetry, Cubist Poems, which confirmed his interest in Picasso and primitive art. From 1914 to 1918 Weber taught art history and appreciation at Clarence White's School of Photography, New York, and in 1916 published Essays on Art, one of the few theoretical tracts produced by an American modernist. In its emphasis on the importance of instinct in the creation of a work of art and its stress on the spiritual over the material, it reveals Weber's great sympathy for the mystical interpretations of the nature of abstract art advanced by Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944). Weber's art during these years explored the sights, sounds, rhythms and intensity of the urban environment by using a combination of bold colors, intersecting planes and a kaleidoscopic array of observed and remembered fragments from the urban scene. Such paintings as Chinese Restaurant (1915) and Rush Hour, New York (1915) were among the most exciting and advanced work done by an American artist following the Armory Show. During these years Weber also began to explore the possibilities of abstract form in a series of small sculptures that earned him a reputation as a sculptural innovator in the USA. He also turned more toward printmaking and the graphic arts and demonstrated his sympathy for various radical political causes by contributing drawings to such leftist journals as Revolt and Modern School. His second volume of poetry, Primitives: Poems and Woodcuts of 1926, featured a number of woodcuts done during the late 1910s.
In the decade following World War I Weber developed a more expressionistic approach and an interest in narrative themes derived from his Jewish heritage. During the 1920s and 1930s his art became more introspective and conservative, and he turned towards genre subjects, which revealed his renewed interest in the human figure. In the 1940s and 1950s his work became more lyrical, and he turned once again to sculpture.