Gartenlokal an der Havel is a powerful example of the richly expressive brushwork and vigorous painterly manner that characterizes Liebermann's mature output. The son of a Jewish businessman from Berlin, Liebermann first studied philosophy and later turned to the study of painting and drawing. Like the painters he studied--Gustave Courbet, Jean-Franois Millet and Edouard Manet--Liebermann combined an observation of nature with historical traditions and contemporary concerns.
In contrast to Liebermann's early paintings of the 1880s and 1890s, his subsequent work was characterized by themes drawn from urban leisure in much the same way as Manet, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir had overturned the hierarchy of subject matter in French painting at the end of the Second Empire. Liebermann thus turned his attention to scenes of elegant bourgeois families strolling through zoos and parks, tennis players, beer gardens, and, as in the present work, open-air restaurants.
Liebermann first became acquainted with the works of the Impressionists when he travelled to Paris in 1873. There he made the acquaintance of Mihály Munkacsy, just three years his senior and, through this friendship, was introduced to the leading artists of the time. He participated in the Salons of 1876, 1879 and 1880, but it was not until 1881 that he received his first medal in a Salon. This award solidified his position as one of the premier foreign artists working in Paris and was especially significant to Liebermann in that it was the first time in a decade that the Salon had awarded a medal to a German artist.
The present work may well depict the grounds of the Schwedischer Pavillion which was a particularly fashionable meeting place at the time. Located in Wannsee by the Havel near Berlin, it was close to the house Liebermann had had built in 1910 and where he frequently painted after the First World War. Liebermann's large garden, which stretched down to the lake and was designed with the help of his friend Alfred Lichtwark, was a source of great pride to the artist. The house and its environs provided him with an ideal subjects for a whole new series of Impressionist plein-air paintings.
As an artist at the height of his powers, Liebermann's most expressive pictures from this time also display a mastery of light effects and a lively impressionistic handling of paint. Liebermann's touch, texture and compositional sense in these late restaurant and beer garden pictures are rarely bettered. The thickly impastoed surface of Gartenlokal an der Havel, particularly in the figures and sails, displays his mastery of the palette knife and overall superb handling of paint. Late in life, Liebermann's style is fresh and vivacious, the brushstrokes loose and expressive.
Acquired by the grandparents of the present owner in the mid-1930s from Galerie Abels in Cologne, Gertenlokal an der Havel has not been on the market since and may be considered a significant rediscovery.