Shalom Life | November 14, 2014

Jewish Hall of Fame: Max Liebermann

A leading figure of German impressionism, Liebermann was both a distinguished artist and a passionate political activist

By: Caitlin Marceau

Published: September 3rd, 2014 in Culture » Art » News

Since the dawn of time, Jewish people have contributed greatly to various fields, from sports to entertainment to politics to porn. With our Breakthrough Jew feature, we recognize those who are up and comers in these various industries, identifying those great innovators and leaders in the contemporary world who are making a mark on society that will last a lifetime.

With the Jewish Hall of Fame, we recognize the remarkable advancements members of our community have made on today's society. These are people who have truly changed the world, and have earned the respect and praise of the members of today's younger generation.

ShalomLife’s Jewish Hall of Fame is our ongoing tribute to the greatest Jews who have ever lived; be sure to catch us weekly with our latest inductees, and tweet us @ShalomLife with your suggestions.

Check out last week's inductee into the Hall of Fame here.

Hall of Fame Member: Max Liebermann

Born: July 20th, 1847 in Berlin, Germany

Died: February 8th, 1915, in Berlin, Germany

Max Liebermann, the famous painter who had several of his pieces looted by Nazis during World War II, was born on July 20th, 1847, to a Jewish family in Berlin, Germany. He lived in a townhouse and his father, who was formerly a fabric manufacturer, was a banker. His parents always had big dreams for Liebermann, yet wanted him to have a more traditional and practical career. However, from an early age he expressed an interest, and was able to find himself through art. By the age of ten, the pieces he crafted were already more than impressive.

In 1862, the famous painter Carl Steffeck stumbled upon some of Liebermann’s drawings and encouraged his family to let him study art professionally. While his parents weren’t interested in such 'whimsical' notions, Liebermann eventually ended up studying under his tutelage from 1866 to 1868, during which Steffeck gave him his first lessons in creating art. Despite his parent’s reluctance, Liebermann would go on to study at the Weimar Art School from 1868 to 1872.

While enrolled, Liebermann developed a reputation for painting the uglier, more realistic side of life. During his studies many artists had adopted a romanticised painting style, making his minimalist and realist style look jarring and cold by comparison. During this time he also developed an interest in capturing the beauty of nature, and it came as no surprise when he moved to France in 1873. He spent time near the town of Barbizon, famous for a group of landscape painters who had worked and studied together under the name of the Barbizon School.


Badende Knaben, Jungen in Zandvoort

In 1878, Liebermann finally returned to Germany, having studied as much as he could in France. He lived in several cities before finally making his final move to Berlin in 1884, where he would go on to marry his wife, Martha Marckwald. He also, during this time, would spend his summer’s in Amsterdam and became fascinated with the lives of the poor and underprivileged. He developed a name for himself in painting melancholic scenes of the working class, yet through an impassioned and objective lense.

Beginning in the early 1890’s, Liebermann began to become influenced by the impressionist movement. His works increasingly played with form, lighting and color, and the subject matter was no longer the focus of his paintings. Although they still held some importance, they were no longer the objectives of these works.

Despite his paintings lacking political agendas, Liebermann himself became involved with politics towards the tail end of the 1800’s. In 1898, until 1911, he led the organization “Erste Sezession Deutschland,” and then headed another group spearheading social change from 1920 until 1932.


Gartenlokal an der Havel unter Bäumen

Liebermann died on February 8th, 1935, in Berlin after becoming seriously ill towards the end of 1914. Despite his passing, his art lives on and continues to inspire artists around the world with his jarring imagery and form.

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