Max Beerbohm (1872-1956) was born Henry Maximilian Beerbohm on 24 August 1872.
He was the youngest child of Julius Ewald Edward Beerbohm (1811-1892). Julius, who was of Dutch, German, and Lithuanian descent, migrated to England around 1830, where he became successful as a corn merchant.
Julius Beerbohm married twice, producing eight children who grew to adulthood. Most became successful as actors or writers. His first marriage to Constantia Draper produced four children, including author Constance Beerbohm, actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and explorer travel-writer Julius Beerbohm.
Following the death of Constantia, Eliza Draper married her deceased sister’s husband, giving him daughters Agnes, Dora, and Marie, as well as son Max.
Between 1881 and 1885, Max Beerbohm attended the day school of Mr. Wilkinson in Orme Square. Beerbohm credited Mr. Wilkinson with preparing him to write English by teaching him Latin. Mrs. Wilkinson gave Beerbohm the only drawing lessons of his life; drawing would later become one of Beerbohm’s chief career pursuits.
Beerbohm went on to Charterhouse School, before going up to Merton College, Oxford in 1890. He left Oxford without a degree, but during his time at the University he became well-known as a dandy and a humorist.
Through his brother Herbert Beerbohm Tree, actor and founder of RADA, Max Beerbohm became acquainted with artistic figures such as Oscar Wilde. He was soon introduced to an influential literary circle, and while still an undergraduate published some witty essays in the literary periodical The Yellow Book.
In 1895, Beerbohm traveled to the United States as a secretary and press agent for his brother’s theatrical company, and became temporarily engaged to American actress Grace Conover.
Back in England, Beerbohm published his first literary collection, The Works of Max Beerbohm (1896), and his first book of drawings, Caricatures of Twenty-five Gentlemen. The following year his short story, The Happy Hypocrite (1897), became his first work of fiction to appear in print.
In 1898, following an interview with his predecessor, Beerbohm succeeded George Bernard Shaw as the drama critic for the Saturday Review, and he remained on the staff of the weekly newspaper until 1910.
Caricatures by Max Beerbohm became popular through their publications in fashionable magazines and a series of books. Beginning in 1901, caricatures by Beerbohm were regularly exhibited in London.
In 1904, Beerbohm met his future wife, Jewish-American actress Florence Kahn. They married six years later and moved to Rapallo in Northern Italy. Other than during the World Wars, Beerbohm would live in Italy for the remainder of his life.
In 1911, Beerbohm published his only novel, Zuleika Dobson. The following year saw the publication of A Christmas Garland, a collection of stories parodying the literary styles and faults of popular contemporary authors such as Henry James. His 1919 collection of short stories, Seven Men, recounted the biographies of fictional male characters.
Beerbohm never limited himself to one art form, and from 1935 he became an occasional radio broadcaster for the BBC.
In 1939, he was knighted by King George VI; in 1942, the Maximilian Society, formed by a London drama critic, was created in honour of his seventieth birthday.
Upon the death of his wife in 1951, Beerbohm called on the assistance of Elisabeth Jungmann, who had been a friend of the couple since 1927. Jungmann became Beerbohm’s secretary and confidante. On 20 April 1956, a month to the day before his death, Beerbohm married Jungmann in order to ensure she would inherit all of his estate under Italian law.
Sir Max Beerbohm died in Italy on 20 May 1956. He was cremated, and his ashes were interred in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.