Max Liebermann not only was a great painter of the German Impressionism, he was himself a great connoisseur and collector of modern art.
The Berlin-based artist collected works of art, among others, by Courbet, Monet and Corot and showed it, along with exquisite furnishings and other art objects, in his house on the Pariser Platz, next to the Brandenburg Gate.
With the assumption of power by the National Socialists, however, the acceptance of the Jew Liebermann ended. He lost his position as president of the Berlin Academy of Arts, which he had held since 1920. He resigned from his position voluntarily, but strongly influenced by the external influences of a world in which there seemed to be no more room for him. He died in 1935. Numerous Jewish companions gave him their last respects when he was buried in the Jewish Cemetery Schönhauser Allee, city officials, the press or members of the Berlin Academy were missing however.
His widow Martha continued living with the art collections in Berlin. In 1943, she committed – the deportation to the Theresienstadt concentration camp was imminent – suicide. The daughter Katharina Riezler had emigrated to the USA already in 1938. The Liebermann house at the Brandenburg Gate had been seriously damaged in the course of the war. Some works of art could be saved by the Swedish artist Anders Zorn and his wife Emma by bringing them to Sweden. Most of the other works of art though were untraceable after the war. What happened to the art works in the collection Liebermann?
“I can’t eat as much as I wanna puke.”
Max Liebermann was no friend of the Nazis. As a Jew, not as a degenerate artist, he was defamed, his works of art removed from public collections. The last years of his life Liebermann stayed in his house together with his works of art. He didn’t want to deal with politics, from public life he withdrew. Only a few years after the Nazis came to power he died at the age of 88. His art collection he bequeathed his wife Martha, after her death in 1943 she bequeathed their daughter Katharina, called Käthe.
After the war, Katherina began to search for the art collection. Since the art of the Berlin public collections mostly found their way from a war-related outsourcing in a salt mine into the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point in present-day National Museum, she asked here for her heritage. In her request for restitution of 1947 Katharina Riezler indicates that the Nazis have sold he entire contents of their apartment, meanwhile Graf Spee-Str. 23, Berlin, directly after Martha Liebermann’s death. At least some of these works of art Katharina named in a list attached, including five of her father’s works, a drawing by Rembrandt, a larger number of prints by Daumier, as well as paintings by Corot, Daubigny, Degas, Monet and some arts and crafts.
On February 18,1947 the then head of the MFA & A, Theodore A. Heinrich answered:
It is regretted that none of the paintings and other art objects belonging to the late Mrs. Martha Liebermann and claimed by her heir, Mrs. Katharina Riezler, has been identified at the Wiesbaden Collecting Point.
But they wanted to keep the list in the event that the artworks were still admitted to the WCCP.
And in fact on January 6, 1950, the assumption could be expressed that one of the missing Liebermann paintings “Garden in Wannsee” was now to be found in the Neue Galerie Linz (Austria). Further research to determine if it the searched painting (the Wannsee was a popular motif in Liebermann’s late work) have been proposed – but here ends the files located in the National Archives Washington, and thus the only tangible trace of the Liebermann-collection after the war.
A puzzle piece in the history of the collection I found by chance in American Archives. More of such pieces can certainly be found in other archives. An exhibition at the Liebermann-Villa at the Wannsee is currently trying to reconstruct the whole collection.