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.
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. 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
In 1869, following Courbet's suggestion, 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. 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 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.
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