Beckmann was born in Leipzig. He studied in Weimar and Paris before settling in Berlin. At the outbreak of war he volunteered for the medical corps, but in 1915 suffered a nervous breakdown and was later discharged. After seeing the devastating effects of the war on the people of Germany and on the country itself, he began to question the values of the world. At about this time he moved away from Impressionism and adopted a more angular, expressionist style. Much of his work takes as its starting point political and social changes in Germany but ultimately his chief concerns were with spiritual values.