LIEBERMANN Max
( 1847-1935) German painter, etcher, and lithographer; born and died in Berlin. He was one of the dominant figures in the German art world and in the later part of his career he accumulated many honours. Liebermann's studies in Berlin find Weimar were completed from 1873 onwards by long periods of study in Paris and at Barbizon. After that, he worked in Munich and in 1884 settled in Berlin, where he remained until his death. Every summer, from 1879 until the First World War, he spent several months in Holland. Liebermann's painting continued the Berlin tradition, the tradition which had culminated in Menzel. However, he was the first in Germany to feel the influence of the great currents of foreign painting, from Naturalism to Impressionism. His early canvases were genre scenes. But the example of Courbet and, above all, of Millet, helped him, from the time of his first stay in Paris, to find a personal language which was colder and less sentimental in its realism than that of the French masters. As subjects for his largest compositions he took groups of men or women at work. Plucking the Geese of 1873, his first large canvas, created a scandal; he was accused of making himself the apostle of ugliness. Liebermann took a great step forward several years later, when he came into contact with Dutch art. From then on he saw men and objects in an atmosphere impregnated with dampness and light, just as the great Dutch masters had painted, in particular Frans Hals, whom he studied and copied. His works of this period -- scenes from orphanages or old people's homes -- and those which follow, are more monumental in their construction. In them Millet's influence predominates, and they are technically more finished. Their principal quality, nevertheless, remains a rather cold cautiousness, and they have that sobriety in the evocation of Nature which seems to correspond to the puritanism of the Berlin tradition. In 1873, during his stay in Paris, Liebermann had not recognized the importance of the Impressionists. It was only after 1890 that he discovered Manet and submitted to his influence. His palette became lighter, his painting gained in light and movement. His landscapes, his street scenes (especially those of the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam) and beach scenes acquired a new unity of tone and colour. But with Liebermann, Impressionism was only a process by which light was added to naturalism without totally transforming it. The colouring remains sober, varied only in its values. A few years later, Degas's influence appeared in the drawing, which became more dynamic and nervous, and in the bolder arrangement of his figures. In the last thirty years of his life Liebermann evolved a discreetly refined work in which, alongside views of his garden at Wannsee, portraits and selfportraits occupy a prominent place. When the Nazis came to power, however, he was required--as a Jew--to resign as president of the Prussian Academy and from his other prestigious positions. His widow committed suicide in 1943 rather than suffer at the hands of the Gestapo. There are some good examples of Liebermann's work in the Tate Gallery, London, including his last self-portrait ( 1934).
Liebermann's work is of capital importance for Germany. Through it and through the struggle of Liebermann and other pioneers for the recognition of French art, German art came in contact with the main currents of European painting. This contact was essential for all the pictorial movements which were to be born after 1900.
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