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OBJECT OF THE MONTH – July 2005


Max Liebermann, Gartenlokal an der Havel (Garden Restaurant on the Havel River), c. 1933 (at Spanish Synagogue)

Oil on canvas, 40 x 47.5 cm, signed lower right: Max Liebermann, undated
i.d. # JMP 73.025
Provenance: Treuhandstelle; last known owner: Ota Oppenheimer, Prague (December 14, 1897 – after January 9, 1942)

February 8 of this year marked seventy years since the death of Max Liebermann, one of the most important modern German painters. July 20 is the 158th anniversary of his birth.

Liebermann was born in 1847 into the Jewish family of Berlin industrialist Louis Liebermann. From 1866 to 1868 he studied art history at Berlin University, but soon left it to attend the art academy in Weimar where he studied painting under the direction of Mihály Munkásc. A great admirer of the French naturalists, the Barbizon school, Liebermann decided to leave for France in 1873. He sought to establish relations with the older generation of Barbizon artists as well as with the younger impressionists, who in April 1874 burst onto the art scene with their first group exhibition in the Paris atelier of the photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known by his pseudonym Nadar. Liebermann was influenced by French plein-air painters as well as by the Dutch masters (especially Frans Hals), whose work he comprehensively studied on his numerous trips to Holland.
After five years in France, Liebermann relocated to Munich and in 1884 returned to Berlin for good. In protest to the rigid, doctrinaire cultural policies under Kaiser Wilhelm II he and other artists (Walter Leistikow, Lesser Ury, Max Slevogt, Käthe Kollwitz, Heinrich Zille, and Hans Baluschek) founded the Berliner Secession in 1898, becoming the association’s president a year later. He resigned his position after a difference of opinion with the expressionists who had coalesced in the Die Brücke group (Max Pechstein and others) and in 1911 founded their own association called Neue Secession that then in 1914 splintered into a further group called Freie Secession, which also included Liebermann. On account of the fact that he was Jewish and often had to confront criticism from chauvinists and nationalists that his work was “un-German,” Liebermann did not have his first retrospective exhibition until he was seventy. It was organized by the Prussian Academy of Art, whose president he became in 1920. After Hitler came to power in 1933 Liebermann was, as a Jew, banned from all artistic activity. He resigned his post as honorary president of the Academy in protest to its decision to no longer exhibit Jewish artists. He withdrew into seclusion, painting mostly in his villa in Wannsee in southwestern Berlin. Liebermann died on February 8, 1935.

Views of garden restaurants and cafés regularly appear in Liebermann’s work. The first series of studies with various views of the Nikolskoe restaurant in Wannsee, which was close to Liebermann’s summerhouse and located on the circular walkway around the lake and Havel River, were painted in the first years of World War I. One of three large canvases with this theme was purchased in 1916 by Liebermann’s friend, the Berlin gallery owner and publisher Paul Cassirer. Liebermann returned to this motif after 1930 when he created a number of small, undated paintings characterized by light tones with impasto in places. The painting exhibited here was created in the last years of the artist’s life, probably around 1933. It is the sole work of Liebermann’s found in the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague and was part of the confiscated property of Prague resident Ota Oppenheimer, who along with his family was deported to Terezín on November 30, 1941 and then to Riga on January 9, 1942. The fate of Oppenheimer and his family remains unknown.

 

 

 


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