After graduating from the Grandducal Art Academy in Weimar in 1903, Beckmann moved to Berlin. In searching for a style, he was inspired by painters such as Van Gogh, Munch and Cézanne, and continuously studied the old masters. Accordingly the paintings of his early career reflect a wide variety of approaches and subject matter. The vibrant colour and psychologically charged content of Small Death Scene (1906), for example, is reminiscent of works by Munch and reflects Beckmann’s experience of his mother’s death in 1906.
The same year Beckmann married Minna Tube, who had been his fellow student in Weimar. Beckmann often painted his wife’s family, especially her mother, a pious woman. In Conversation (1908) Beckmann depicts Minna between her mother and sister, while the artist himself sits on the couch in the far background.
The most ambitious work of Beckmann’s early career is The Sinking of the Titanic (1912). Although this large, multi-figured painting was criticised for sensationalism, it helped to establish Beckmann as one of the most promising young talents in Berlin. He became the youngest member of a prestigious arts board, the Berlin Secession, and in 1913 had an exhibition of more than 50 paintings in the prominent Berlin gallery of Paul Cassirer, who published the first Beckmann monograph to accompany the show.