Max Liebermann

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One of Germany’s most renowned cultural icons, Max Liebermann introduced the concept of modernism in art in his native homeland. Liebermann’s dominant presence was ever evident at the turn of the century where he made a strong impact with his naturalistic portrayal of the poor and became a strong advocate of Impressionism in Germany as well. Another important aspect of Liebermann was that he was also an art politician; he founded the “Erste Sezession Deutschland” organisation where the latest political mishaps and achievements were often discussed and captured in his paintings. He was a vocal opponent of repressive regimes in his country and utilized his art to showcase his distaste from time to time. Later on in his mature years, Liebermann made the shift of painting scenes of bourgeois life and became a sought after liberal bourgeoisie painter at the turn of the century.

Born in Berlin Germany in 1847, Liebermann’s father was a wealthy Jewish banker. From the tender age of 9, he began exhibiting a keen interest in the arts, which was noticed by renowned Berlin artist Carl Steffeck who encouraged the then teenaged Liebermann to continue honing his craft. His parents however were set against him pursuing art, the result of which was Liebermann enrolling in university to study politics and law instead. However art did come calling again to Liebermann who finally took up his passion and started painting earnestly under the watchful eye of Steffeck. The direct simplicity and reality of Liebermann’s work soon began gaining attention, most of the art present during that time in Germany bordered around the concepts of romanticism. In Liebermann’s work, people found something deep and interesting. The main objects of Liebermann’s were the poor folk from farmers, laborers, street vendors and factory workers. His stark and true depiction of their state prompted many to call him the ‘disciple of the ugly.’ For Liebermann there was nothing ‘ugly’ about the people who were the main objects of his paintings, he was simply showing the viewer the real aspect of life most seemed to overlook or ignore. The unadulterated realism of his work didn’t win him many critics in the beginning, nor did he particularly care about this. He continued to do as he pleased regardless of the criticism he faced. Unlike other artists who painted to make a living, thanks to his wealthy upbringing and smart investments Liebermann painted to express his views and how he saw society in Germany at that time.

In Los Angeles, the Jewish Museum pays homage to Liebermann’s works by exhibiting 45 of his works, the homage was titled Max Liebermann: From Realism to Impressionism. According to the experts at the museum, Liebermann’s Jewish identity played a large role in his aesthetic choices. Max Liebermann was deeply conscious of the social and political climate of Germany during his time as an artist, it makes one wonder how a wealthy artist was able to understand and depict the plight of the poor so vividly in his paintings. Despite the early criticism he faced, during the mature years of his life as an artist it was one accolade after another. Liebermann was even elected as the president of the Prussian Academy of Arts.

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