Max Kaus was initially trained as a decorative artist but a trip to Paris in 1914 aroused his interest in the Fine Arts. Unfortunately, World War I broke out and instead of devoting his energies to art, he worked as an ambulance driver in Flanders. Luckily in 1917, he met Erich Heckel who was his military supervisor in Ostend. Heckel's influence is particularly seen in Kaus's early works from this period. His art is marked by brooding doubt and existential loneliness.
In 1920, he became a member of the Freie Sezession and met Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Otto Mueller. In the early 1920s, he travelled by boat through the Brandenburg Marshes to Mecklenburg and the Baltic and his work from this period often depicts landscapes and bathers.
In 1926, he became a teacher at the Meisterschule für Kunsthandwek in Berlin and in 1933 he accepted a position at the Vereinigte Staatsschulen. The Nazis disliked his art and in 1938 he was forced to resign from this position. In 1943, his studio was destroyed in a bombing raid and in 1945, his graphic work was also destroyed.
After World War II, he became a teacher at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Berlin where he remained until 1968. His works before the Second World War often depicted people and places connected to his life but after the War his art becomes dominated by rhythmic patterns heading towards abstraction.