Three Women in Church by Wilhelm Leibl

Three Women in Church by Wilhelm Leibl


The artist featured in My Daily Art Display today is Wilhelm Maria Hubertus Leibl.  He was born in Cologne in 1844 and became one of Germany’s greatest Realist painters of that time.

Originally apprenticed as a locksmith and later as a precision instrument maker, Wilhelm decided to follow his love of art, gave up his apprenticeship, and took to studying and training to become an artist.  His first teacher in Cologne was the painter and author, Herman Becker.  When Leibl was nineteen years of age he moved to Munich and became a student at the Academy of Fine Arts.   He studied under many art tutors including Anschutz, Straehuber and von Piloty.  The standards of his works of art fluctuated and every so often he would produce a gem.  The first such treasure was his painting entitled Aunt Josephia which he completed around 1864 and now hangs in the Walter-Richartz Museum in Cologne.   He was praise for his clever depiction of the woman’s hands which added to the expression, mood and the characterisation of the sitter.  Whilst later at the Academy he taught art to the students but a lot of his free time was spent visiting the Alte Pinakothek to study the works of art of the Masters.  His favourite art-genre was the Baroque Period and the works of van Eyck, Rubens and de Vos but also he had an affinity with the great portraiture artists such as Frans Hals and Diego Velazquez.

In 1869 he produced his portrait of Frau Gedon, which hangs in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich.  This work of Leibl was shown at the Grosse International Kunstausstellung and Gustave Courbet, the French Realist painter judged it to be the best exhibit.  So impressed by it, Courbet invited Leibl to join him in Paris.  Whilst in the French capital Leibl spent much time studying the works  of his host Courbet and those of  Édouard Manet and these artists and their paintings inspired Leibl for the rest of his life.

Leibl only remained in Paris for a year as 1870 saw the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War that July.  Despite returning to Munich, Leibl continued to keep in touch with the French Art world and regularly submitted his own works to the Paris Salon.    In Munich he and his artist friends Carl Schuch, Wilhelm Trübner and Johann Sperl formed an artistic group known as the “Leibl Circle”.  This group’s passion for art was for art’s sake.  Their ethos was simple – art should be convincing exclusively through it formal qualities.  It was at the time of his return to Munich that Leibl started to experiment with etchings but his love of this artistic medium waned after a few years.  In 1873, at the age of twenty nine he left the city life of Munich and moved to Grassling, a countryside suburb of the city.  He enjoyed the country and village lifestyle and spent the rest of his life in various small villages around southern Bavaria and it was during those years that he painted the local peasantry in a sombre realistic style.  Leibl’s standing as an artist was principally dependent on the French critics, since his artistic reputation in Germany fell long before his standing went into decline in France.  Sadly, he never gained the acknowledgement he merited in his homeland .   Leibl died in 1900 in Wurzburg at the age of fifty-six.

My Daily Art Display today is Leibl’s oil on mahogany painting entitled Three Women in Church which took him almost three and a half years to complete and was finally exhibited in 1882, and now hangs in Hamburg’s Kunsthalle.  This was to be Leibl’s greatest masterpiece.  It is a haunting piece by an artist who, at the age of thirty eight, was at the zenith of his career and this work of art enhanced his reputation as one of Germany’s greatest Realist painters.

The three women are painted in great detail, despite, as he told his sister in a letter, the poor lighting inside the church.  The three women, all of different generations, are wearing their local costumes.  Look at their faces as they sit deep in prayer.  See how Leibl, by his attention to facial details, has portrayed their piousness.  They are all dressed in their “Sunday-best” clothes, looking their best for their church visitation.  This is a wonderful example of Realism painting depicting simple Bavarian country folk at prayer.  It emphasizes emotion and individuality and I hope you agree that this painting is a joy to behold.