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Wilhelm Leibl

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Wilhelm Leibl
Self-portrait at the age of eighteen
Wilhelm Maria Hubertus Leibl

(1844-10-23)October 23, 1844
DiedDecember 4, 1900(1900-12-04) (aged 56)
Three Women in Church (1881)

Wilhelm Maria Hubertus Leibl (October 23, 1844 – December 4, 1900) was a German realist painter of portraits and scenes of peasant life.



Leibl was born in Cologne, where his father was the director of the Cathedral choir. He was apprenticed to a locksmith before beginning his artistic training with the local painter Hermann Becker in 1861.[1] He entered the Munich Academy in 1864, subsequently studying with several artists including Carl Theodor von Piloty. He set up a group studio in 1869, with Johann Sperl, Theodor Alt, and Rudolf Hirth du Frênes. At about the same time, Gustave Courbet visited Munich to exhibit his work, making a considerable impression on many of the local artists by his demonstrations of alla prima painting directly from nature.[2] Leibl's paintings, which already reflected his admiration for the Dutch old masters, became looser in style, their subjects rendered with thickly brushed paint against dark backgrounds.



In 1869, following Courbet's suggestion,[3] Leibl went to Paris, where he was introduced to Édouard Manet, but was forced to return to Germany in 1870, due to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.[1] In 1873 Leibl left Munich for the isolated Bavarian countryside, where he depicted the local peasants in everyday scenes devoid of sentimentality or anecdote. The sketchlike quality of his earlier paintings was replaced by greater precision and attention to drawing. Living from 1878 to 1882 in Berbling, he painted perhaps his best-known work, the Three Women in Church (Kunsthalle, Hamburg). Its intensely realistic style recalls Hans Holbein in its clarity of definition. During the following years he moved to the town of Bad Aibling and, in 1892, to Kutterling, as his paintings united the disciplined drawing he had adopted in the 1880s with a new delicacy and luminosity.

Leibl painted without preliminary drawing, setting to work directly with color, an approach that has parallels to Impressionism. His commitment to the representation of reality as the eye sees it earned him recognition in his lifetime as the preeminent artist of a group known as the Leibl-Kreis (Leibl Circle) that included, among others, Carl Schuch, Wilhelm Trübner, Otto Scholderer, and Hans Thoma.

During the first half of the 1870s, Leibl executed a series of 19 etchings[4] in a meticulous style. His charcoal drawings are conceived in great masses of light and shadow, blocked in as though he were using a brush and paint.

He visited the Netherlands in 1898, and his work was included in the Berlin Secession exhibition the following year. He died in Würzburg in 1900.[1]

Nazi-looted art


In 2009 the German Advisory Commission for the Return of Cultural Property Seized as a Result of Nazi Persecution recommended that Leibl's painting “Bauernmädchen ohne Hut mit weißem Halstuch” (‘Peasant Girl without a Hat and with a White Headcloth’) (1897), which had been seized by the Nazis, be restituted to the heirs of Dr. Alexander Lewin.[5][6]


  1. ^ a b c Artist biography in German Masters of the Nineteenth Century, pp. 269–70
  2. ^ Forster-Hahn 2001, p. 155
  3. ^ Novotny 1978 p.288
  4. ^ Novotny 1978, p.289
  5. ^ "Recommendation of the Advisory Commission for the Return of Cultural Property Seized as a Result of Nazi Persecution" (PDF). This case concerned the painting "Bauernmädchen ohne Hut mit weißem Halstuch" ('Peasant Girl without a Hat and with a White Headcloth') (1897) by Wilhelm Leibl. The Advisory Commission recommended that the German Federal Government return the piece to the heirs of Dr Alexander Lewin.The recommendation is based on the following facts: Dr Alexander Lewin (1879 – 1942) was the Chairman of the Board of Management at the hat manufacturer Berlin-Gubener Hutfabrik AG until 1938. His comprehensive art collection included Leibl's 'Peasant Girl'. In summer 1938, Dr Lewin emigrated to Switzerland as a result of persecution, having been identified as a so-called 'Jewish Mischling (half-breed) of the first degree'. At the beginning of September 1938, Dr Lewin left the Board of Management at Berlin-Gubener Hutfabrik AG and in early March 1939, he gave notification that he would not be returning to Germany, which led to him being denied access to his entire estate as a result of a so-called 'security order' issued on 10th March 1939. On 4th August 1941, the German Reichsminister of the Interior deprived Dr Lewin of his German citizenship. His property was seized from him.
  6. ^ "Bavarian State Paintings Collection in the News Again, May Face Claims from Eva Braun Heirs". www.lootedart.com. Art Law Report. Archived from the original on 2016-08-09. Retrieved 2021-05-15. And in 2009, the Commission recommended that the German Federal Government return Peasant Girl without a Hat and with a White Headcloth (1897) by Wilhelm Leibl to the heirs of Dr Alexander Lewin.