The German press contained special and leading articles, photographs and tributes on the occasion of the 85th birthday of Professor Max Liebermann, the great artist, who celebrated his 85th birthday on July 20.
Professor Max Liebermann, who belongs to one of the most distinguished Jewish families in Germany, is a brother of the late Professor Carl Liebermann, the famous chemist, and of the late Professor Felix Liebermann, the historian and authority on English Constitutional History, who died in 1925, and a cousin of the late Walter Rathenau, the German Foreign Minister, who was assassinated by anti-Semites in 1922.
He is the dean of German painters and the greatest representative of German impressionism. He was a great friend of Joseph Israels, the Jewish painter in Holland, who was known as the “Rembrandt of the Nineteenth Century,” on whom he has written the most authoritative work. He has written a number of other important essays on art, which are collected in a volume of “Collected Writings.”
During the monarchy in Germany, Liebermann was denied all official recognition because he was a Jew. His election as President of the Berlin Academy of Art was vetoed by the Kaiser. When the Republic was established, however, the Academy again elected him as its President, and although the term of office of the President of the Academy is limited by law to three years, the law was repeatedly suspended by Act of Parliament in his favor.
The anti-Semitic movement did not, however, neglect to attack even this greatest of German artists. The fact that he was one of the signatories to the appeal issued to the German people by some of the most distinguished artists and writers of the country, calling on the German people to vote for President Hindenburg, in the presidential elections, when he was opposed by Hitler, called down on him the wrath of the Hitlerist press and speakers, and the Berlin Hitlerist daily, “Angriff,” published an allegation that he had told a French journalist that if Hitler was returned to power, the French army must march into the country to put down his Government, and called him a traitor, demanding his arrest and trial.
Professor Liebermann immediately issued a denial. It is true, he said, that I received a French journalist and showed him my pictures, but I did not talk politics with him, let alone say anything of the kind attributed to me in the report.
At the end of May it was announced that Professor Liebermann had resigned the Presidency of the Berlin Academy of Arts, ostensibly on account of his advanced age, but it is understood that the real reasonâ€”since it was taken for granted that he would be President for lifeâ€”is the growth of Hitlerist influence.
The Minister for Education and Fine Arts, Dr. Grimme, sent him a letter after that, expressing to Professor Liebermann his personal admiration and his official gratitude for the important work he had done for German art, and the prestige his presence at the head of the Academy gave Germany in international art.
An exhibition of Liebermann’s works was opened in the galleries of the German Art Association in May, in preparation for his 85th birthday.
When Professor Liebermann celebrated his 80th birthday in 1927, the occasion was one of nation-wide observance. The President of the Republic, Field-Marshal von Hindenburg, sent him a message in his own handwriting through the Federal Minister of the Interior, who brought him at the same time the Order of the Shield of the Eagle of the Empire. Your life-work, President Hindenburg wrote, is of undying importance in the history of art. You have opened up a new road for a whole generation of artists, who follow in your steps. In token of the great debt which the German people owes you, I hereby confer on you the Shield of the Eagle of the Empire.
“I WAS BORN A JEW AND I SHALL DIE A JEW”
“I was born a Jew, and I shall die a Jew,” Professor Liebermann declared in a statement published in the “C. V. Zeitung.” “The other day,” he went on, “I looked out at the Old Jewish cemetery in the Schoenhauser Allee, and as I looked out I said to myself: It is a very fine thing to know that your grandparents and your parents lie there, and that you, too, will lie there.
“Do you know how many years it is since I was offered a post as the head of an Academy, and the letter containing the offer went on to say that I should go and be baptized at once ? I replied to these people that if it will make me paint better, I might consider being baptized.
“I have often spoken with Professor Einstein about the Jewish question,” Professor Liebermann continued, “and I used to talk about it frequently with the late Dr. Paul Nathan. It is a very painful question,” he said, “but the solution is not simple. Zionism is attempting to find a solution. Zionism is a