Max Weber was among the leading first-generation American modernists, exploring abstraction in painting, sculpture, and poetry. After studying with the innovative teacher Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Weber taught art for five years in Virginia and Minnesota. In 1905 he went to Paris and studied in several traditional academies, but his real education in France came with his introduction to the avant-garde. He became a devoted disciple of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), met Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), and Leo and Gertrude Stein and became close friends with Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), later organizing the first exhibition of Rousseau’s work in the United States. Weber was instrumental in organizing an art class under Henri Matisse (1869-1954). He also was one of the first Americans to realize the importance of primitive art and study the ethnographic collections housed in Paris museums.
Returning to New York in 1909, Weber became a core member of the group of American modernists who exhibited in Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery "291," having his first solo exhibition there in 1911. In 1910 he published an essay on the fourth dimension, and he was one of the few Americans to be concerned with such advanced ideas at this time. He also created some of the earliest abstract sculptures made by an American. Before World War I Weber exhibited his exceptionally progressive paintings of landscapes, nudes, and still lifes, which reflected the forceful brushwork and brilliant color of Matisse. Possibly because of the hostile critical reception his paintings received, Weber turned to religion for solace and in the late 1910s incorporated in his repertoire figures of Talmudists, rabbis, and the Hassidim, and these recur in his art throughout his career despite stylistic changes.
In 1930 critical attention was redirected to his art when the Museum of Modern Art, New York, accorded him a retrospective exhibition. By the late 1930s, he had developed his final style. In his paintings of religious figures and nudes a thin, exuberant brushstroke and wiry, calligraphic line dominated, and in the 1940s the brilliant fauvist palette of his early years reappeared.
Among his numerous writings are Cubist Poems (1914), Essays on Art (1916), and Primitives (1926).
Private collection, and New York, Columbia University, Special Collections, Max Weber Papers (those in private collection on microfilm, Archiv. Am. Art) § Holger Cahill, Max Weber (New York: Downtown Gallery, 1930) § Alfred Werner, Max Weber (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1975), with chronology, bibliography § New York, Jewish Museum, and others, Max Weber: American Modern, exh. cat., 1982, with text by Percy North, chronology, list of exhibitions, bibliography.