Max Liebermann
Biography of German Impressionist Painter.

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The Parrot Man (1902)
Folkwang Museum, Essen.

Max Liebermann (1847-1935)


Early Life and Work
Berlin Sezession

Terrace of Restaurant Jacob in
Nienstedten on the Elbe (1902)
Hamburger Kunsthalle.
One of Max Liebermann's
greatest genre paintings.
Notice the Renoir-like dappled light.


An influential figure in 19th century German art, the painter and printmaker Max Liebermann was noted for his determined Realism, involving the depiction of the lower classes at work and play, but is best known for his contribution to German Impressionism. His earlier work was influenced primarily by the French Barbizon painter Jean-Francois Millet (1814-75) and the German realist Adolph Menzel (1815-1905), and was not entirely free of controversy, even scandal. However, as soon as he settled in Berlin - where in 1884, he was appointed teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts - he and his work were linked to fin-de-siecle aesthetics as a representative of the radical Sezession group, who supported new types of modern art like Impressionism and Art Nouveau. See also Post-Impressionism in Germany (c.1880-1910). At the same time, however, he never lost touch with the traditional artistic mainstream in Germany. Thus he also became a member of the Berlin Academy, and in 1920 he was elected its president. In 1933 political pressure from the Nazis forced him to resign from his position.

Paintings by Max Liebermann
are also widely available online
in the form of poster art.

For an idea of the pigments
used by Max Liebermann, see:
Colour Palette Nineteenth Century.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest view painters, see:
Best Landcape Artists.
For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.

For the best works, see:
Greatest Modern Paintings.

Early Life and Work

Born in Berlin, the son of a Jewish businessman, Liebermann studied law and philosophy at the University of Berlin before turning to art. After being taught by the painter Carl Steffeck from 1866 to 1868, he enrolled at the Weimar Art School where he studied painting and drawing from 1868 to 1872 - a period interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), in whichLiebermann served as a medical orderly near Metz. Meanwhile, his earliest style of painting was exemplified by Women Plucking Geese (1872) - his first exhibited picture. Its simple realism was in such contrast to the Biedermeier style of romanticism then in fashion, that it earned him the nickname "disciple of the ugly." In the summer of 1873, following a visit to Paris the previous year, Liebermann travelled to France to visit Barbizon, a village near Fontainebleau, south of Paris, where a loose-knit group of French artists known as the Barbizon School of landscape painting had been working since the 1830s. At the time it was considered the mecca for the study of naturalism. He met one of the leaders, Jean-Francois Millet, and was also able to study the work and painting techniques of other members like Camille Corot (1796-1875), Constant Troyon (1810-65), and Charles Daubigny (1817-1878). But it was Millet who had the greatest impact on him, due to his sincere and simple rural themes, and his influence - notably in the effects of atmosphere and light - can be found in Liebermann's paintings, and above all, in his drawings and etchings. Examples include: Workers in a Field (1876) and The Cobbler's Shop (1881).




In 1878, after a further period of study in the Netherlands (1876–77) - a country he revisited every summer until 1913 - he returned to Germany, settling first in Munich and then in Berlin (1884), where he married Martha Marckwald (1857–1943) and remained for the rest of his life. During this period - influenced somewhat by the realism of Adolph Menzel whose painting The Steel Mill (1872-5, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin) was the first to shine a light on industrial Germany - he concentrated on the depiction of everyday scenes involving the poor, the elderly and urban labourers in Germany and Holland, as exemplified in his masterpiece The Flax Spinners (1887) - a sad but not sentimental portrayal of monotonous rural labour. His realistic focus often caused controversy. His earlier works like The Cobbler's Daughter (1871) had already been criticized as "subversive", because they portrayed working men and women as they actually were - not idealized or denigrated. Now his Twelve-Year-Old Jesus in the Temple (1879) was condemned in the German parliament as blasphemous and "anti-Christian", because his Jesus was "too Jewish looking". Curiously, neither his radicalism nor the arts hierarchy's conservatism prevented him in 1884 from being offered a teaching post at the Berlin Academy - an offer which he accepted.


From about 1890 Liebermann began began to be influenced more and more by Impressionist paintings, especially works by the more classically inclined realists like Edouard Manet (1832-83) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917). And the more he concentrated on Impressionist concerns of light and colour, the less concerned he became about subject matter, relying mainly on genre-painting. Together with Lovis Corinth (1858-1925) and Max Slevogt (1868-1932), Liebermann became a champion of German Impressionism. Even so, unlike most Impressionist painters in France, he never allowed himself to get carried away by optics, preferring to maintain a clear narrative in his pictures. During his time in Berlin he also specialized in portrait art, building up a thriving practice as a society portraitist, in a style reminiscent of Manet. In this genre he was also influenced by the eminent Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904) and by the realist German painter Wilhelm Leibl (1844-1900), for both of whom he had a profound admiration.

Berlin Sezession

During the 1890s, in response to the conservative teaching and exhibition policies of the official academies, many modern artists in Germany and Austria "seceded" and formed breakaway organizations, in order to stage exhibitions of more avant-garde art. Following the Vienna Secession in Austria, and the earlier Munich Secession, the Berlin Secession was finally announced in 1898, under the inaugural Presidency of Max Liebermann. His notable works from this late period include A Country Brasserie, Brannenburg Bavaria (1894), Papageienallee (1902), Polo Players (1902), The Parrot Man (1902), On the Way to School (1904) and Dutch Landscape (1912). He remained President of the Berlin Sezession until 1911, although this didn't stop him from being a member of the Berlin Academy. Indeed, in 1920, in the aftermath of the First World War, he was elected President of the Academy, remaining a member until Jewish artists were banned in 1933.

Paintings by Max Liebermann can be seen in some of the best art museums in Europe.

• For biographies of other modern artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more details of 19th century German painting, see: Homepage.

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