German Impressionism Presented at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

First U.S. Exhibition to Explore Impressionism´s Little-Known German Chapter with More Than 100 Paintings, Drawings, and Prints

Max Liebermann, celebrated as “the German Manet,” was the leader of a generation of German painters who were inspired by the stylistic developments in France. With colleagues Lovis Corinth and Max Slevogt, he forged the way for Impressionism in Germany. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will be the first American museum to devote a major exhibition to German Impressionism with German Impressionist Landscape Painting: Liebermann—Corinth—Slevogt, on view September 12—December 5, 2010.

While the artists were not exclusively devoted to landscape painting, the development of German Impressionism can be most clearly traced through these light-dappled, plein-air works. Eighty paintings, most on loan from German institutions, offer a rare opportunity for audiences to discover Impressionism´s little-known German chapter. Co-organized by the MFAH and the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, Cologne, the exhibition travels from Cologne to Houston. An accompanying exhibition of forty graphic works, Drawing from Nature: Landscapes by Liebermann, Corinth, and Slevogt, will also be on view, illustrating the full range of their approach to landscapes.

“While Impressionism is considered a fundamentally French development, it naturally spread to neighboring countries, and German Impressionist Landscape Painting focuses on the greatest works by these leading German visionaries,” said Dr. Peter C. Marzio, MFAH director. “Liebermann, Corinth, and Slevogt are rarely exhibited in the United States, as their works are generally not in American museum collections, and the MFAH exhibition will be the first time that works by the so-called ´Triumvirate of German Impressionism´ will be shown together.”

“German Impressionist Landscape Painting presents a wonderful opportunity to explore why it took nearly 20 years for Impressionism to make its way from Paris to Germany,” added Dr. Helga Aurisch, MFAH associate curator of European art and co-organizer of the exhibition. “By looking at the greatest German Impressionist painters—presenting their works to the American public for the first time—we are able to better understand an important chapter of art history and the complex relationship between the art world and world events.”

Historical Background
Developed in France during the 1870s and 1880s, Impressionism started to attract artists from many countries, including the United States; yet it took nearly 20 years for it to take hold in Germany. Despite the fact that both Max Liebermann and Lovis Corinth spent several years in Paris during these decades, they focused on the Barbizon School and academic realism respectively, while Impressionism seems not to have made an impact on them. Unfortunately, following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, many prominent French artists refused to meet visiting German artists—like Millet, who snubbed Liebermann, or Manet, who refused to share a table with him. Conversely, anti-French sentiment in Germany was high, and French innovations, including artistic movements like Impressionism, were not readily accepted. The first Berlin gallery show of French Impressionism was not until 1883, but by this time, German artists were discovering Impressionism for themselves.

The short-lived, furiously creative German Impressionist movement was at its high point for the first decade of the 1900s, when Berlin was a hotbed of German Impressionist painters. In May 1898, the ´Berlin Secession´ was founded with Liebermann as president, and one year later the group put on its first exhibition of German artists, attracting nearly 2,000 visitors on opening day. Their next exhibition, in 1900, included work by French artists shown side-by-side with German artists. Despite the Kaiser´s disapproval, both shows were triumphs. Liebermann, Corinth, and Slevogt were dubbed ´the Triumvirate of German Impressionism´ in 1901 by art dealer Paul Cassirer, and the three artists enjoyed accolades and continued success for some ten years before world events would interfere. Because of a falling out with the younger German Expressionists, Liebermann resigned the ´Berlin Secession´ presidency in 1911 but was subsequently elected honorary president of the ´Freie Secession.´ In 1920, at the apex of his fame, he became president of the Berlin Academy of Arts and Letters. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Liebermann, who was Jewish, resigned from this position.

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Image: Max Liebermann, Blumenstauden am Gärtnerhäuschen nach Norden, 1922, Öl/Lw.: 56 x 75 cm. Private Collection