The German painter Max Liebermann (1847-1935) founded the German impressionist school and coordinated its development with the modern movement in Paris.
Max Liebermann was born on July 20, 1847, in Berlin into a Jewish family. His admiration for the Dutch painter Jozef Israëls and the many Jewish themes found in his works, particularly those executed in the Netherlands, testify to his religious consciousness. Liebermann began to study art at the University of Berlin, but he did not enter an art academy until 1868. This was in Weimar, where he remained until 1873. Between 1871 and 1875 he made three visits to the Netherlands, a country which appealed to him and to which he returned many times later.
Liebermann started to paint as a realist, and the free brushwork of Frans Hals influenced him decisively. Liebermann settled in Paris in 1873, and his early contact with the Barbizon school (1874) made him an adherent of plein-air (open-air) painting. He moved to Munich in 1878 and in 1884 settled in Berlin, where he lived the rest of his life. He retained the Old Master touch with its subdued color scheme until 1890, and his genre scenes—pictures of people working and street and market themes—were strongly realistic.
Only after he discovered Édouard Manet did Liebermann's palette become lighter, but it never approached the brilliance of Claude Monet's or Pierre Auguste Renoir's. Liebermann's colorism remained more connected with German and French realist painting. The influence of Edgar Degas liberated his style as a draftsman and graphic artist, and finally Liebermann's own mature and personal style emerged in pictures of sporting events and riders on the beach, views of his garden in Wannsee, portraits of high society, and self-portraits.
In 1892 Liebermann founded the Malervereinigung XI, a predecessor of the Berlin Secession. His first retrospective exhibition was held in the Berlin Academy in 1897, to which he was elected a member in 1899. That same year he founded the Secession, whose chairman he remained until 1911. In 1920 he became president of the Berlin Academy of Arts and Letters; the Nazis removed him from this position in 1932.
Liebermann, who was also a resourceful and original writer on art theory and a personality of great charm and wit, was one of the first artists to be persecuted by the Nazis because of his religion. In 1933 he was forbidden to paint and to exhibit, and his pictures were removed from German public collections. He died on Feb. 8, 1935, in Berlin.
Further Reading on Max Liebermann
There are no full-length biographies of Liebermann in English. A short biography is in Peter Selz, German Expressionist Painting (1957). Liebermann is also discussed in Museum of Modern Art, German Art of the Twentieth Century (1957), by Werner Haftmann and others, and in Bernard S. Myers, The German Expressionists: A Generation in Revolt (1957).