Max Liebermann yearned for a private garden for much of his life. When visiting a farmer's garden near Hamburg in the early 1890s, he had reacted passionately to the simplicity and linearity of the cut hedges, straight paths and flower beds lined with box he saw there, saying 'When I have a villa built for myself at home, I am going to put in a garden like this one'. Holding his hands before his eyes to frame different pictorial motifs, he added, 'one could paint hundreds of pictures here, one more beautiful than the other'. (Alfred Lichtwark, Makartbouquet und Blumenstrauss, Munich 1894, p. 59)
In 1909, Liebermann, by now an established and prosperous portrait painter and president of the Berlin Secession, bought a lakeside property by the Wannsee, a fashionable outdoor district west of Berlin. There, together with Alfred Lichtwark, director of the Kunsthalle Hamburg and a follower of the reformist garden movement, Liebermann carefully created his own tightly structured, rhythmically hierarchised garden. This 'Wannsee paradise', besides being a hideaway from his busy city life, was an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the artist who, for the most part, painting directly from nature, produced about 200 oil paintings, pastels and drawings of the garden from all possible viewpoints and in different seasons.
Blumenstauden am Gaertnerhaeuschen nach Nordwesten is one of a series of three oil paintings depicting a bed of colourful flowers by the gardener's shed in the fruit and vegetable garden towards the North-West of the estate. The richness in colours and blossoms of this part of the garden must have held a special fascination for Liebermann. Unlike related views of this subject from 1922 and 1924, the painter, for this work, took a closer standpoint, almost encroaching on the tall perennials and further truncating the only visible window. Two of the three closely related versions, dated 1926, seem to be a study and its elaborated copy. In the present version, Liebermann creates more tension and depth, and instead of red, yellow and white hues, he employs a bright blue for the perennials, heightened against the foil of the black trees and the few red dots interspersed on the right. As another gardener who knew Liebermann recalled, the colour blue had a special significance for the artist: 'Pictorially, blue is the most interesting in a garden. Nowhere else is the question of the neighbouring and background colours so vital' (Jenns Eric Howoldt, Der Nutzgarten: 'Hundert Bilder könnte man hier malen', in Im Garten von Max Liebermann, exh. cat. Hamburg, Kunsthalle and Berlin, Nationalgalerie 2004, p. 63/64).
In Blumenstauden am Gaertnerhaeuschen nach Nordwesten the abundant vegetation grows over the canvas blocking out the sky, evoking a strong plasticity realised by a combination of thick brushwork, sometimes reworked with a palette knife, and an extensive mesh of quick, fluid dabs. Typical of his late views of his Wannsee garden, Liebermann has here tirelessly fathomed all possible varieties of nuanced relationships between geometric shapes and spaces, colour and texture, regularity and disorder, to invest the painting with a highly modern abstract quality that reflects a new degree of painterly freedom and expression.