Max Liebermann (1847 - 1935)
The Artist's Wife (Martha Liebermann) Asleep (c. 1885)
oil on cardboard, 8.07 x 11.42 in. (20.50 x 29 cm)
The portrait The Artist’s Wife (Martha Liebermann) Asleep was owned by its author, the German Jewish artist Max Liebermann and his wife Martha. The painting was sold by Martha under duress sometime between 1936 and 1943.
Max Liebermann was a German Jewish painter and owner of an important collection of French Impressionists in Germany. Born the son of a textile manufacturer and banker on July 20, 1847, Liebermann studied law and philosophy in Berlin before transitioning to studying painting. He served as a medic in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, before settling in Berlin for the rest of his life with his wife Martha. Known for his paintings of bourgeoisie scenes and his portraits, he would lead the Berlin Secession avant-garde movement and become an honorary citizen of Berlin.
Liebermann, as a prominent Jewish artist, was singled out for discrimination early in the governing of the Nazi Party. Only a couple of months after the Nazis came to power in 1933, he had been removed as the President of the Prussian Academy of Arts, and his works were being removed from public collections. As a precautionary measure he deposited fourteen of his most important works in the Kunsthaus Zürich, and withdrew from public view.
It was in his home on Pariser Platz, Berlin, that he died in his sleep on February 8, 1935. His death was neither covered in the media, nor acknowledged by the Prussian Academy of Arts. His service was held at the Jewish cemetery at Schönhauser Allee three days later. At the request of the family, attendance was restricted, most likely due to the Gestapo’s awareness and surveillance of the event. Fellow artists Käthe Kollwitz, Georg Kolbe, art dealer Bruno Cassirer, and art critic Karl Scheffler were in attendance. Scheffler eulogized the artist.
As the years of National Socialist governing continued, the persecution of the Jewish community increased rapidly. Max’s daughter Katharina “Käthe” managed to flee to the United States in 1938 with her family, with the intention of finding a way for her mother, Martha, to join her. Now in her eighties, Martha still lived in Berlin with the rest of her art collection. On March 4, 1943, she received notification that she would be deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp the next day. Bedridden from a stroke months earlier, Martha chose to overdose on sleeping pills. When authorities arrived at her apartment the next morning, they found her unconscious, and she was transported to the Jewish Hospital of Berlin where she died on March 10. Her apartment was seized and sealed by authorities the day she was transported to the hospital. Just days following her funeral in late March, the entire Liebermann estate was confiscated and forfeited for the benefit of the Reich. The movable property was inventoried and appraised and a confiscation list was drafted that July by the Chief Financial Officer of Berlin-Brandenburg on behalf of the Gestapo.
Martha’s portrait was in her possession until at least 1936, and was one of the paintings she signed with an inheritance stamp. The painting was not included on the list made by the Gestapo in 1943. By 1960, it was in Munich in the possession of Wolfgang Gurlitt, cousin of infamous Nazi-associated art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, and had probably been in his possession since 1952. Gurlitt was known to have visited Martha several times before her death, wanting to obtain works from her collection.