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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Restitution of a sketchbook by Max Liebermann – Akademie der Künste

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A sketchbook by Max Liebermann (1847-1935) from the art collection of the Akademie der Künste with drawings of garden locales on Wannsee will be restituted to the artist’s descendants on 5 June 2023. It is thanks to their kindness that the sketchbook can subsequently be reacquired against payment of a compensation sum.

Fig. above: Academy of Arts at Pariser Platz, reading room, photo: Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

During provenance research in the art collection, it was discovered that the inside cover of the sketchbook contains an estate stamp with Max Liebermann’s facsimile signature. It was acquired in 2005 at an auction of a Munich auction house. After Liebermann’s death on 8 February 1935, his widow Martha Liebermann put this stamp on all of the artist’s unsigned works. The sketchbook, which is dated to the early 1930s, was thus demonstrably with Martha Liebermann in 1935.

The Akademie der Künste feels a special connection to the legacy of Max Liebermann. As president of the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin after 1920, he opened the institution to modernism and made it an important voice for art and culture in the Weimar Republic. This political orientation continues to have an impact to this day. In 1933, the Prussian Academy of Arts allowed itself to be brought into line by the National Socialists without any significant opposition. Six months after his appointment as honorary president, Liebermann felt compelled to publicly declare his resignation in May 1933, thus avoiding expulsion. In autumn 1935, the widow Martha Liebermann moved out of the house on Pariser Platz into a flat in what is now Hiroshimastraße in the Tiergarten district and was forced to give up all her assets. Her daughter emigrated to the USA with her family in 1938. In 1943, Martha was to be deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto and took her own life shortly before. Her flat was sealed by the Gestapo in 1943 and the inventory together with the art collection was recorded on confiscation lists, including “3 sketchbooks”.

Whether this sketchbook was still in her possession at that time is unclear. However, it can be assumed that Martha Liebermann had to hand it over between 1935 and 1943 under the pressure of National Socialist persecution. For the Akademie der Künste, it is important to make a contribution to the recognition of the injustice that occurred at that time with this restitution.

Until 22 January 2023, the sketchbook was the focus of the exhibition “Spurensicherung. The story(s) behind the works”, in which the Archive of the Academy dedicated itself to the subject areas of provenance research and institutional history in the halls on Pariser Platz.


Academy of Arts
Pariser Platz 4
10117 Berlin

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