An Artistic Home in the Netherlands
The Netherlands continued to be Liebermann's main source of subject matter until after 1900. Over a period of more than 40 years – with the outbreak of the First World War marking the decisive cut-off point – he spent almost every summer in the neighbouring country. With his large-format major paintings from the late 1880s, Flachsscheuer in Laren [The Flax Barn at Laren] and Netzflickerinnen [The Netmenders] (cat. no. 39), Liebermann readdresses the theme of working life on a larger scale. While the women repairing fishing nets are set apart from one another in the depths of the landscape in order to emphasise their isolation, the women in the flax workshop are united by the regular rhythm of their collective activity.
Besides such depictions of manual working processes, images of the Dutch landscape increasingly featured in many of Liebermann's oil paintings and studies. From a genre perspective, it is interesting to note that none of these exceptionally fresh works are purely landscape depictions: the characteristically flat landscape is invariably punctuated by farmsteads and populated with individual figures.
In 1876, on one of his many walks around Amsterdam, Liebermann happened to glance inside the courtyard of a municipal orphanage housed in the former St. Lucy's Convent (now the Amsterdam Museum). However before he could start making his oil studies of girls from the orphanage gathered in the courtyard during their midday break – some standing, others sitting sewing – he first had to obtain permission. The same applied to the studies he made in the dining hall, which provided the basis for his painting Nähschule – Arbeitssaal im Amsterdamer Waisenhaus [Sewing Class – Workroom in the Amsterdam Orphanage]
In 1885 Liebermann painted a vertical-format portrait of three girls sitting on a bench in the courtyard of the orphanage. While two of them are occupied with their needlework, the youngest girl in the middle is feeding the sparrows on the ground in front of them. This serves to highlight the narrative content of the painting – a device that is rarely encountered in Liebermann's oeuvre.