Free period in the Amsterdam Orphanage, 1881–1882
Max Liebermann put a lot of effort into this painting. It was a long and tedious process just to obtain permission to work in the courtyard of the Amsterdam orphanage. He spent weeks on site making studies, then developed them further in his studio, and later returned to Holland before finally embarking on the actual painting in Munich in the autumn of 1881. It had meanwhile been five years since he had first conceived the plan; a year later the work was finished. It shows Liebermann as a painter who had absorbed the influence of both the Naturalists and the Impressionists he knew from Paris. The motif reflects his penchant for social realism; at the same time, however, he bathes reality in an atmosphere of peace and harmony. The girls have a home here, they are properly dressed, no one harasses them, they play and busy themselves.
The painting thus also solicits social empathy and visions of social reform. In reality, the location was not as picturesque; to an extent, the scene was artfully composed by the painter. The entrance at the back, for instance, was actually further to the left. Even more significantly, there were no trees in this courtyard filtering the sunlight to form the “Liebermannesque sun spots” on the ground, walls and figures.