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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Max Liebermann

Max Liebermann's version of Seurat's La Grande Jatte, Garten lokal an der Havel
(ca. 1900), is handled loosely even my impressionist standards. No Frenchman
would have rendered such a mélange. Though the content is the same,
the differences are stunning.
Self-portrait with a Brush, 1913,
Max Liebermann
When we think of Impressionism, we think first and foremost of French Impressionism...and with good reason, in that the movement began in France, and some might say ended there too. Yet I've also written about English Impressionism (09-03-12) as well as American Impressionism (Maurice Prendergast, 12-04-11) (Childe Hassam 12-03-10), and I don't doubt that there was probably Spanish and Italian manifestations of the style as well. In any case there was certainly a German Impressionism and its leading proponent was Max Liebermann. His work bears the unmistakable mark of the French brand, as well it should, he studied there for four years shortly after the Franco-Prussian war just as French Impressionism was starting to gain a foothold in the rough and tumble Paris art scene.

Boys Bathing, 1898, Max Liebermann
But Liebermann was no Frenchman. His work is thoroughly German, if not in style, certainly in content. In flipping through his hundreds of extant works, there is, of course, nature. I would have said "landscape" had I been talking about French Impressionism, but Liebermann's version of the ubiquitous Impressionist landscape is mostly cultivated and urban, often populated to the point of seeming "busy" as in his Garten Lokal an der Havel (top). He loved painting beach scenes depicting nude bathers, though apparently German women were more modest than their French counterparts. His nude bathers are almost entirely male (above). Liebermann also painted café life, women working in factories, ice skaters, boaters, street scenes, and intimate bedroom scenes (and I do mean intimate in the most intimate sense of the work). He was an excellent impressionist portrait artist, in fact, rivaling van Gogh in the number of self-portraits he left behind.

Martha Marckwald Liebermann, 1896,
Anders Zorn
Max Liebermann was born in 1847. He lived through eighty-eight years of European turmoil, serving as a medic in the little dust-up of 1870-71 with the French. Liebermann reluctantly supported his country during WW I. However, as something of an "art politician" during the 1920s, with the advent of National Socialism, his work fell into disfavor. The Nazis discarded it like used toilet paper. He died in 1933, spared the worst of the agonizing years that followed. His wife, Martha, was not so fortunate. Invalided with a stroke, having been forced to sell the family home in 1940, she was notified she would be deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp. She took her own life just hours before Nazi authorities came to take her away.

Twelve-Year-Old Jesus in the Temple, 1879, Max Liebermann
(Liebermann was Jewish)

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