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Max Liebermann

Perennials in Front of the Gardener’s Shed Facing East

Oil on canvas
54 cm75 cm

signed bottom left: M. Liebermann

Perennials in Front of the Gardener’s Shed Facing East

Max Liebermann bought an elongated plot of land on Lake Wannsee on the outskirts of Berlin in 1909 and there had the architect Paul Otto Baumgarten build him the summer house that today is used as a museum. When planning the garden, the artist sought the advice of the director of the Hamburg Kunsthalle, Alfred Lichtwark, who had studied garden design in some depth, taking a special interest in the “reform gardens” developed by architects and artists at the turn of the century.1 The reform garden was a modern, middle-class answer to the traditional landscape garden, inasmuch as it aspired to a synthesis of the cottage garden on the one hand and the formal gardens laid out according to architectural principles of the Renaissance and Baroque periods on the other. It was remarkable for its clear structures, which found expression in plant zones, circumscribed flowerbeds, and trimmed bushes separated from each other along clearly defined lines of sight. Liebermann conceived both villa and garden as an aesthetic whole right from the start. His summer domicile was to prove an inexhaustible wellspring of inspiration and productivity for Liebermann, who painted at least two hundred paintings during his sojourns there. But it was also essential to him as an escape from the stress of urban life and the reality of the war, even if the artist was by then too old to see any active service himself. Travelling was no longer so easy for him either, so it was fortunate that the garden supplied material in abundance for his study of nature. “The clear geometry and simplicity of the vegetable garden laid out according to Alfred Lichtwark’s plans accorded with the painter’s long-standing preference for nature that had first been planned and civilized by humans.”2 The garden paintings that proliferated from 1916 onwards, moreover, signal a new and vigorous phase of creativity on the part of Liebermann, who by then was over sixty. They stand for a more intensive engagement with Impressionism and with painting en plein air. His most important model for these were the late garden paintings of Edouard Manet,3 an artist he held in high esteem, five of whose late paintings he himself possessed.4 Manet’s orderly pictorial architecture was more to his taste than the works of Claude Monet, another passionate gardener who had realized his own dream of a garden with lily pond at his home in Giverny. Unlike Liebermann, Monet the painter – though not the gardener – was happy to let chance play a role in his creations; hence the profusion of climbing plants, whose magnificent colours never ceased to surprise and delight him, repeatedly inspiring paintings in whose dazzling showers of colour viewers might immerse themselves. Liebermann took a more academic approach to garden design and set great store by order and clear coordinates, even if his articulation of the flowers and bushes shows him willingly acceding to a quasi-abstract blurring of forms. Our painting, which according to Eberle5 shows the perennials in front of the gardener’s shed facing east, was painted around 1928. Liebermann produced several variants of this view over the years and used different perspectives and the garden’s own choice of lines of sight to produce ever new “takes.” Only the constantly changing stock of plants and the seasonal cycle of the flowering trees and shrubs made for variety in his palette. As Margreet Nouwen has noted, Liebermann’s Wannsee garden paintings sometimes look almost like photographs taken with a wide-angle lens.6 This sense of spaciousness is a feature of our painting, too. Not by chance does Richardson see parallels between Liebermann’s Wannsee gardens and his landscapes.7 If Manet brought the landscape back to Paris, as Emil Waldmann has claimed of his garden paintings,8 then Liebermann can surely be credited with having performed much the same service for Berlin.

  1. The reform movement that aspired to restore humanity to its “natural state” and was critical of industrialization, materialism, and urbanization arose in Germany and Switzerland in the mid-nineteenth century.

  2. Howoldt, Jenns Eric, “Vor allen Ländern lächelt jenes Eckchen der Erde mich an…” Die Gartenbilder und ihr zeitgeschichtlicher Hintergrund in exh. cat. lm Garten von Max Liebermann, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin 2004/2005, p. 12

  3. Richardson, Holly, “‘un jardin de peintre’ Die Gartenbilder von Monet, Manet und Liebermann,” in exh. cat. lm Garten von Max Liebermann, pp. 34–38.

  4. Ibid., p. 35.

  5. Eberle, Matthias, Liebermann: Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde und Ölstudien, Munich 1995, WV-No. 1928/11, p. 1194 (illus.).

  6. Nouwen, Margreet, “Der Garten im Fluchtpunkt,” in exh. cat. lm Garten von Max Liebermann, p. 22.

  7. Richardson, op. cit., p. 37: “Der Garten als Berliner Landschaft.”

  8. Cf. ibid., p. 2.

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