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Max Liebermann

* 1847 – † 1935

Restaurant “De oude Vink”, Leiden 1911

Pastel on paper

Signed and dated at bottom left: MLiebermann 1911.

Max Liebermann took up pastel painting in the 1880s. After the turn of the century, his observations of upwardly mobile, middle-class society gave rise to increasingly atmospheric pastel compositions. He was especially taken with the carefree world of summer vacationers enjoying modern life on the eve of the First World War and captured this in brightly coloured, airy pastels full of dappled sunlight.1 In his foreword to the catalogue of the first exhibition devoted exclusively to Liebermann’s pastels in 1927, his biographer, the art critic Karl Scheffler, commented: “The number of these works is large. They all have a charm of their own, born of their immediacy, the definiteness of their colours, and the magisterial technique. There is a transfiguration hanging over these summer scenes – all that sun, that serene gaiety, that fine, sensuous abstraction … These are joyful works in which truth shines forth in all its glorious colours, engendering a mood that has something euphoric about it. Nowhere does Liebermann’s prodigious and rigorous talent manifest itself more agreeably than in this part of his admirable life’s work.”2

The motif of elegant, urbane city-dwellers seeking rest and relaxation under shady trees or on sunny terraces is one that Liebermann painted and sketched repeatedly over the decades. He himself enjoyed the nonchalant mood of beer gardens and garden cafés and liked to linger there, watching the upper middle classes at play and amassing material for future works.3 This virtuoso pastel, for example, shows a group of well-to-do guests taking a leisurely break on the garden terrace of a restaurant called De oude Vink.4 Despite his close scrutiny, Liebermann depicts the café terrace and the people gathered there in a deliberately sketchy way, reducing the scene to just a few salient details. What reigns supreme in this swiftly done, light-flooded pastel is not form, but colour. With the aid of the complementary colours yellow and blue, the artist succeeds in capturing the airy, summery atmosphere of what is clearly an idyllic destination. With just a few yellow accents in both foreground and background, the bright, sun-drenched left half of the work conveys the sizzling heat of a hot summer day, while the right half, with its densely staggered, dark-green trees, promises welcome shade and a place to cool off and escape the extreme heat. The refreshing impact of the shady area is further amplified by the light and dark blue hues of the chairs and tables. The blue nuances in the left half of the work at the same time hint at the presence of water and the landing stage nearby. In the nineteenth century, De oude Vink was located on the bend at which the Korte Vliet canal joined the Rhine, opening up beautiful vistas of the surrounding riverscape. So impressed was Liebermann by the atmosphere of this popular haunt of bourgeois city-dwellers that he visited it on several occasions and produced three paintings of the popular café terrace. The restaurant itself was destroyed in 1945 and despite being rebuilt closed for good in 1953.5

  1. “Nichts trügt weniger als der Schein”. Max Liebermann der deutsche Impressionist, exh. cat. Kunsthalle Bremen 1995–1996, Munich 1995, pp. 11 ff

  2. Ibid., p. 13.

  3. Ibid., p. 166.

  4. In the nineteenth century De oude Vink – “the old finch” – was a popular destination for day-trippers on the south-western fringes of Leiden.

  5. Watling, Lucy, “Was war ‘De Oude Vink’?”

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