Portraiture, the painter`s studio
and his family
With a few exceptions Max Liebermann's numerous self-portraits were all created after 1900. The artist's interest in his own likeness appears to have been rekindled in 1902, when the Uffizi Gallery in Florence invited him to submit a painting to the museum's prestigious collection of artists' self-portraits. In the large Selbstbildnis [Self-Portrait] from the collection of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, on the other hand, he has chosen not to depict the act of painting. For all its outward appearance of composure, the deep thoughtfulness that can be sensed in this image is the result of self-observation and dispassionate representation – characteristic features of the self-portraits Liebermann continued to produce well into old age. His unsentimental approach is also reflected in the images of his studios. These demonstrated the depiction of the studio in the family's summer residence in Wannsee in 1932. Visitors were often struck by the rather cheerless atmosphere in this studio, yet it was here that Liebermann created not only numerous garden paintings, but also a large number of drawings, pastels and paintings illustrating the family's private life in Wannsee. These include some particularly striking portraits of his granddaughter Maria – the images of the little girl in her everyday surroundings are rendered with obvious affection.
For many years Max Liebermann painted only the occasional portrait. His first important portrait commission came from Alfred Lichtwark: in 1891 the director of the Kunsthalle asked Liebermann to paint a portrait of Hamburg's popular mayor, Carl Friedrich Petersen. The finished work met with a storm of protest and scathing criticism, however. Above all, the realistic rendering of Mayor Petersen as an elderly man was considered highly inappropriate. The mayor himself loathed it, and on his deathbed he made a member of the Kunsthalle Commission promise that the painting would never be exhibited at the museum. For 14 years it was concealed by a curtain. Although in 1892 German critics were still noting "with horror" that the "apostle of ugliness" had decided to turn his attention to portraiture, the international response to Liebermann's work was overwhelmingly positive. In 1893 the Petersen portrait was highly praised at the Paris Salon, and in 1895 his pastel portrait of Gerhart Hauptmann was awarded a prize at the first Venice Biennale. From 1900 onwards Liebermann received numerous portrait commissions for the Kunsthalle collection, capped by the prestigious commission to paint the group portrait Der Hamburgische Professorenkonvent [Assembly of Hamburg Professors] in 1905.