Free Period in the Amsterdam Orphanage
Oil on canvas
Inv. No. 1351 (Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.)
79 × 108 cm
Max Liebermann, who lived and worked in Berlin, received decisive impulses for his art in Holland. There he studied the work of Frans Hals – and was fascinated by the non-hierarchical, welfareoriented society. He had already discovered the courtyard of the Amsterdam civic orphanage on his first journey to Holland in 1875. He made spontaneous sketches, watched the girls at play for weeks and purchased one of their uniforms in red and black, the city colours. It was not until 1881, however, that he composed this large-scale painting in his Munich studio. Its warm palette of springtime green and brick red is broken down by shimmering pinpoints of reflected light. Thanks to the diagonal arrangement, the figures detach themselves from the realistic illustration in the foreground to dissolve into pure light-and-shade effects in the back: in a vision of a harmonious society, a first venture away from Realism and into Impressionism. The newly founded Städelscher Museums-Verein made its debut in 1899 with the purchase of the groundbreaking work of German plein-air painting, and with this celebration of civic consciousness it joined in a song of praise to “pure painting” as well.