The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Max Liebermann, 1847-1935

Nationality: German
Date of Birth: 1847.07.20
Place of Birth: Berlin
Date of Death: 1935.02.08
Place of Death: Berlin


Max Liebermann, a genre and landscape painter and etcher, was the son of a Jewish businessman from Berlin.


Liebermann, who initially studied philosophy, became the pupil of Carl Steffeck in 1866. From 1868 to 1872 he also studied under Ferdinand Wilhelm Pauwels, Charles Verlat and Paul Thumann at the Kunsthochschule in Weimar. Influenced by the work of Mihály Munkácsy, he produced his first major painting, dealing with the subject of work, Goose Pluckers (1871-2; Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin).

Living in Paris from 1874 to 1878, Liebermann became familiar with the work of Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet. He became one of the leading figures of the Naturalist movement in the 1880s and 1890s. His paintings all show a similar concern for the dignity of labour. The Dutch Realist tradition was of immense importance for him, and from 1875 to 1913 he spent his summers painting in the Netherlands. In 1878 he moved to Munich where his work was met with derision. During this period his work, which tended towards the anecdotal, was influenced by the flat colour of Wilhelm Leibl (e.g. Bleaching Field, 1882-83, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne). In 1884 Liebermann settled in Berlin.

After 1895 Liebermann turned to an Impressionist style of painting, becoming one of the most successful modernist artists in Germany, being concerned less with subject matter and more with the depiction of movement and light in nature. He also took up etching through which he found himself able to capture the transient nature of light and atmospheric conditions. He became well known for his portraits of literary figures and scientists (e.g. Georg Brandes, 1902, Kunsthalle, Bremen). He became one of the leading figures in the Berlin Secession from 1898 to 1911. In 1903 he was elected President of the Deutscher Künstlerbund, and from 1920 he was President of the Prussian Akademie der Künste.

Liebermann was among those who exhibited at the first exhibition in Knightsbridge, London, of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, a society which had been set up in 1898 with JW as its President. He was in Scheveningen in August 1902, and may well have visited JW, who was ill at The Hague.


Liebermann, Max, Gesammelte Schriften, Berlin, 1922; Busch, G., (ed.), Die Phantasie in der Malerei: Schriften und Reden, Frankfurt am Main, 1978; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Hancke, Max Lieberman, 1923; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Monneret, Sophie, L'Impressionisme et son époque, Paris, 1978-79; Desmukh, M. F., 'Max Liebermann: Observations on the Politics of Painting in Imperial Germany, 1870-1914', German Studies Review, vol. 3, 1980; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; Desmukh, M. F., 'German Impressionist Painters and World War I', Art History, vol. 4, 1981, pp. 66-79; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995; Brand, Bettina, 'Max Liebermann', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 17 January 2003).