March 08, 2012

The Getty Research Institute Acquires 82 Prints by Max Liebermann

The collection of prints by the celebrated German painter highlights a lesser known, but essential aspect of the artist’s oeuvre


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LOS ANGELES—The Getty Research Institute announced today the acquisition of 82 prints by German artist Max Liebermann (1847–1935). The collection of prints spans a large part of the artist’s career and highlights the celebrated painter’s skill as a printmaker. The prints are a promised gift of an anonymous donor in memory of Siegbert and Toni Marzynski, the original collectors.            

“This set of pristine, well-documented prints by one of the most prolific and popular figures in modern German art is incredibly important for researchers and a beautiful addition to the Getty Research Institute’s special collections,” said Thomas W. Gaehtgens, director of the Getty Research Institute (GRI). 

The collection of prints spans more than three decades of Liebermann’s career, from 1887 to 1922. Early works in the collection include idyllic country landscapes such as Grazing Goats, 1887, as well as interiors featuring ordinary people, such as The Midday Meal, 1888, or The Weaver, 1883, with a particular emphasis on the theme of work. The majority of the collection comprises views of the seaside, city streets, the opera, and other genre subjects. With the virtuosity of an old master painter-printmaker, Liebermann excelled at creating the effect of atmosphere in the various print media in which he worked. Many of the prints either inspired or were inspired by particular paintings of this period. Prints made during the First World War and under the Weimar Republic include particularly exquisite portraits of prominent men such as the Imperial Chancellor (1915) and composer Richard Strauss (1919).

“Liebermann’s prints are an essential counterpoint to painting within his career, which this collection of prints demonstrates particularly well,” said Louis Marchenso, curator of prints and drawings at the GRI. “Most of the prints are in pristine condition, display a rich range of tonal values and allow us to gauge the evolution of his technique.”

Its provenance is among the most impressive aspects of this collection; many of the prints are artist’s proofs acquired by Siegbert Marzynski directly from Liebermann, with whom he had formed a friendship. Each mat contains an annotation transcribed from the collectors’ original note cards listing the image’s title, date, medium and state, as well as where the collectors got it (most often, from Liebermann’s studio). This detailed and meticulously kept information makes this set of prints incredibly important for researchers.

The prints become part of the GRI’s Special Collections, which comprise rare and unique collections in art history and visual culture from around the world, including more than 27,000 prints ranging from the Renaissance to the present. Additionally, the GRI houses letters written by Liebermann between 1914 and 1933.

A strong network of scholarship on Liebermann exists in Los Angeles. A recently published book on Liebermann (Max Liebermann and International Modernism: An Artist’s Career from Empire to Third Reich; Berghahn Books, 2011) was edited by independent scholar Barbara Gaehtgens and Françoise Forster-Hahn (University of California, Riverside), and features essays by Thomas W. Gaehtgens (Getty Research Institute), Timothy Benson (The Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), and Susan M. King (University of California, Irvine). The J. Paul Getty Museum owns Max Liebermann’s 1878 painting An Old Woman with Cat. In 2006 that painting was included in the survey exhibition Max Liebermann: From Realism to Impressionism organized by the Skirball Cultural Center.

About Max Liebermann

The painter, draughtsman and printmaker Max Liebermann (1947-1935) was one of the most prolific and well-known figures in modern German art. Over the course of his career Liebermann worked in a wide range of styles. His first major period of painting garners frequent comparison to the realism of Jean-François Millet and the Dutch School: figures bend and kneel in dusk-tinged landscapes, working in fields rendered with soft yet sturdy brushstrokes, or gather in somber interiors. These paintings were highly controversial at the time, rejected by critics for a perceived lack of idealization. Liebermann, however, saw these paintings as bestowing dignity on marginalized classes of society. As the 19th century ebbed, Liebermann’s paintings became less focused on weighty subject matter and showed a greater interest in atmosphere and the art of painting itself. These paintings functioned as studies on the effect of light as it filtered through leisure scenes indebted to the airy subjects of the Impressionists, of whose work Liebermann assembled an impressive collection. It was at this point that Liebermann found overwhelming critical and popular success. His work, however, maintained distinctive stylistic links to his earlier naturalism, never approaching the abstraction of some of the Impressionists or his German contemporaries.

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The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations:  the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

The Getty Research Institute is an operating program of the J. Paul Getty Trust. It serves education in the broadest sense by increasing knowledge and understanding about art and its history through advanced research. The Research Institute provides intellectual leadership through its research, exhibition, and publication programs and provides service to a wide range of scholars worldwide through residencies, fellowships, online resources, and a Research Library. The Research Library - housed in the 201,000-square-foot Research Institute building designed by Richard Meier - is one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. The general library collections (secondary sources) include almost 900,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues encompassing the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities. The Research Library’s special collections include rare books, artists’ journals, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs, and archival materials.

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