Max Liebermann (1847-1935)
Max Liebermann (1847-1935)

Biergarten in Laren--Studie

Max Liebermann (1847-1935)
Biergarten in Laren--Studie
signed and dated 'M. Liebermann 03.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
28¼ x 39¾ in. (71.8 x 101 cm.)
Painted in 1903
Kapitänleutnant Kuthe, Berlin; sale, Keller & Reiner, Berlin, 2 December 1911, lot 39.
Paul Cassirer, Berlin (January 1912).
Anon. sale, F.A.C. Prestel, Frankfurt, 9 March 1914, lot 33.
Elmer G. Engel, New York; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 18 May 1983, lot 34A.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. Sievers, "Berliner Ausstellungen" in Kunst für alle, vol. XXVII, no. 9, February 1912, p. 220.
N. Jahrgang, "Sammlung Kuthe--Berlin, Versteigerung bei Keller & Reiner in Berlin, 2. Dez." in Der Kunstmarkt, vol. IX, no. 11, December 1912, p. 106, no. 39.
Weltkunst, vol. LIII, no. 12, July 1983, p. 1815 (illustrated).
M. Eberle, Max Liebermann: Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde und Ölstudien, 1900-1935, Munich, 1996, vol. II, pp. 611-612, no. 1903/4 (illustrated, p. 611).

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Lot Essay

The present canvas dates to the most inventive and exuberant phase of Liebermann's long career, during which he combined the contemporary subject matter and free, active handling of French Impressionism with a bravura treatment of color and a thick, gestural impasto that is distinctly his own. The painting is part of an important sequence of views that Liebermann made around the turn of the century, which portray bourgeois pleasure-seekers in open-air restaurants and recall such iconic Impressionist images as Renoir's Moulin de la Galette and Le déjeuner des canotiers. Here, Liebermann depicts the beer-garden at Laren, a picturesque town in northwestern Holland where he and his family spent the summer of 1903. Liebermann painted this view en plein air, emphasizing the dappling of the sunlight as it penetrates the high canopy of trees. The elliptical fence that encloses the rows of tables suggests a secure oasis of conviviality, while the tree trunk in the immediate foreground occupies the position of the artist/viewer, surveying the bustling crowd. The figures are rendered with just a few strokes of the palette knife, a bold and reductive style that earned Liebermann the label "the German Manet" in the early twentieth century. Barbara Gilbert has explained:

"His painting revealed a new approach--a reduction of objects, light, and movement to the simplest form, executed with concise but abstract brushstrokes. The change represented a new way of seeing for Liebermann and gave him the impetus to develop what was interpreted in his own lifetime as a unique German response to French Impressionism" (Max Liebermann: From Realism to Impressionism, exh. cat., Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, 2005, p. 39).

Although Liebermann visited Paris intermittently during the 1870s, he was working in a heavily Realist style at the time, and there is no evidence that he made contact with the Impressionist painters or attended any of the Impressionist exhibitions. His earliest meaningful exposure to French Impressionism came in 1883, when the Fritz Gurlitt Gallery mounted the first exhibition of Impressionist art in Berlin. Two years later, Liebermann began attending the weekly salon of Carl and Felicie Bernstein, whose collection of modern French art, assembled under the guidance of Carl's Parisian cousin Charles Ephrussi, was the most significant in Berlin at the time. After Liebermann's father died in 1894, leaving him a sizable inheritance, the painter began to amass his own major collection of Impressionist art, with particular emphasis on the work of Manet: "One can probably have too much Manet but one can never really have enough," he wrote to a fellow collector (quoted in ibid., p. 37).

Beginning in the 1890s, Liebermann was also passionately engaged in the promotion of modern art in Berlin, championing an international perspective and offering staunch resistance to the cultural conservatism of the Wilhelmine government. From 1899 until 1911, he was the president and most innovative voice of the Berlin Secession, which served as an alternative venue for modern art, open to a range of foreign influences. Françoise Forster-Hahn and Mason Klein have written, "Nearly two decades would pass from the first exhibition of Impressionist works in Berlin in 1883 before modern art, especially modern French art, began to gain broader appreciation in the German Empire. In his roles as a painter, printmaker, theoretician, organizer of exhibitions, and collector, Liebermann placed himself at the center of these developments... His primary artistic legacy [was] the cultivation of an open dialogue that helped to lead the way for Germany by the time of World War I to rival France in articulating the avant-garde" (ibid., pp. 176 and 181).

Following his return from Laren to Berlin in the autumn of 1903, Liebermann used the present oil, along with two related pastel studies, as the basis for a studio composition depicting the same beer-garden, viewed from a slightly more distant vantage point (Eberle, no. 1904/1). He considered the latter canvas one of his most important achievements of 1903-1904 and exhibited it at the Berlin Secession, the Munich Secession, and the International Exhibition at Düsseldorf.

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