The Arty Semite

Max Liebermann: Rediscovering a German Jewish Impressionist

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

Turn-of-the-century German Jewish artist Max Liebermann is still not a household name despite a major 2006 Jewish Museum retrospective. Further international attention may give him the acclaim he deserves.

Liebermann was recently featured in an exhibit, “German Impressionist Landscape Painting” which after being seen at Cologne’s Wallraf-Richartz Museum from April through August, 2010, traveled to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where it was on display from September 12 to December 5, 2010. A lavish catalogue remains, from Yale University Press, showing how hard work and love for French painters such as Manet and Millet allowed Liebermann to evolve his own visual synthesis.

The dynamically bustling market scene, “Street in the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam, 1905” included in the aforementioned exhibit, is but one of seven such canvases produced on this theme in a single year by Liebermann, who with typical thoroughness, rented an apartment with a panoramic view of local hondling, in order to optimally render its vitality. Liebermann lived until 1935, long enough to see his lofty status decline dramatically after Germany’s Nazi takeover.

Liebermann’s “Complete Writings” (Gesammelte Schriften) appeared in December, 2010 from Der Europäische Hochschulverlag, an academic press based in Bremen. Among Liebermann’s succinct articles reproduced therein is a 1901 appreciation of the 19th century Dutch Jewish naturalist painter Jozef Israëls. Liebermann specifically praises Israëls as a Jewish painter: “applying to nature all the inwardness of his nation and race.” He also points out that although Israëls’s heyday — he lived from 1824 to 1911 — was the “epoch of Bismarck… nothing was farther from [Israëls] than brutality.”

In a more personal appreciation from 1908, Liebermann pays tribute to the German Jewish art collectors and patrons Carl and Felicie Bernstein. At the apartment of these noted collectors of Impressionists, “you might think you were in a Paris salon,” Liebermann enthuses. Liebermann points to the Bernsteins’s Judaism as a source of their progressive esthetic enlightenment:

Frau Bernstein had the trait of her race, that she understood distinctions, subtle nuances of both soul and sensibility.

Liebermann adds a little anecdote in which during the height of the Dreyfus Affair, Felicie Bernstein invited Émile Zola to dinner and commiserated with him about how difficult Zola’s 1898 UK period of exile must have been, to which Zola retorted unexpectedly: “London was the happiest time of my life.” Many of Liebermann’s best works are similarly happy, whether seaside scenes or beer garden revels, despite the looming clouds of historical tragedy which were fast approaching.

Watch a video visit of Max Liebermann’s former Berlin home where art exhibits are frequently held today below.

Related articles. “Revisiting the Work of the First Emancipated German Jewish Artist” “Metropolita New York: Great Works”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Jozef Israëls, Max Liebermann, Carl and Felicie Bernstein, Emile Zola

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.