Liebermann, Max

(1847-1935)
   artist; premier representative of German Impressionism. Born to a well-established Jewish family in Berlin* (he was related to both Walther Rathenau* and Hugo Preuss*), he grew up cognizant of his varied roots. He was attracted early to literature; his interests included the Bible, Kant, Goethe, the classical Greeks, Spinoza, Hegel, and Schopenhauer. But he was soon captivated by painting; at the time of his death his portraiture ranged from an elderly Theodor Fontane to Thomas Mann* and Paul von Hin-denburg.*
   Liebermann's studio training began in 1863. During 1868-1873, while study-ing at Weimar's Kunstakademie, he traveled to Holland and came under the influence of Josef Israels, a Dutch landscape artist whom he considered his foremost teacher. He was drawn to the Naturalism of the Barbizon School (Mil-let, Daubigny, Corot, and Troyon) while residing during 1873-1878 in Paris. Wilhelm Leibl, a German realist, further shaped his style when Liebermann moved to Munich. During his Munich years, which ended in 1884, his work dissented from the Reich's pompous court painting while highlighting such sub-jects as an orphanage and a retirement home.
   In 1884 Liebermann took up residence in Berlin. From 1891, with his first solo exhibition by Munich's Kunstverein, he was widely recognized throughout Germany. His bright painting was clearly influenced by the French Impression-ists, especially Manet and Degas. In 1892 he led several like-minded artists out of Berlin's Verein Berliner Kunstler in protest to the closing of an Edvard Munch exhibit. The dissenters formed a nucleus for the Berliner Sezession, the famous artists' society founded in 1898 by Liebermann and Walter Leistikow. Already the recipient of numerous awards, Liebermann became a member of the Royal Academy of Art in 1898. Through the Sezession, for which he served as first president (1899-1911), he won recognition for Impressionism. Under his direction and with help from such art dealers as Bruno and Paul Cassirer, the Sezession staged several exhibits and became a commanding artistic force. Lie-bermann, who initially opposed Expressionism,* was determined to keep the group wedded to Impressionism. Angered by the Sezession's refusal to show their work, several Expressionists founded the Neue Sezession in 1910. A lengthy struggle ensued, centered on Liebermann and Emil Nolde,* which bred such bitterness that Liebermann resigned his presidency. But his successor, Louis Corinth, was so reactionary that Liebermann induced a schism in 1913 and formed the more progressive Freie Sezession. The new group included the Expressionists Ernst Barlach,* Max Pechstein, and Max Beckmann* as board members. In recognition of his honored position, Liebermann was elected president in 1920 of the Prussian Academy of Arts. He used the office as a platform to reform art education and, in parallel with the Bauhaus,* to foster unity within the arts. From the beginning of his presidency, however, he endured attacks from anti-Semitic* circles for whom he epitomized the application of Jewish principles to German art. Retaining his office throughout the Weimar era, he became honorary president in 1932. In May 1933 he resigned both office and membership in protest to Nazi cultural policies. His funeral, monitored by the Gestapo, was attended by only four artists (one of whom was Kathe Kollwitz*). When his widow learned in 1943 that she was to be sent to a concentration camp, she committed suicide.
   REFERENCES:Benz and Graml, Biographisches Lexikon; NDB, vol. 14; Selz, German Expressionist Painting; Heinrich Strauss, "On Jews and German Art."

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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