Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud


Max Liebermann
The Bleaching Ground
, 1882

In a country garden with old trees, two maids are spreading linen on the grass to bleach. A number of items have already been laid out on the spacious lawn. The washerwomen are not alone: in the background on the left a girl is sitting on the grass, while two women are chatting over the fence. In front of the farmhouse on the right, a flock of chickens are pecking for food. The light penetrating the dense leaf canopy of the fruit trees is even, while the peaceful atmosphere of the picture is additionally underscored by the harmonious effect of the different greens.

As we see it today, the composition comes across more as a landscape. The element of labour, which at the turn of the twentieth century was an important theme of Liebermann’s work, takes a back seat here. The original concept of the picture, though, was different. We know from a drawing in the catalogue of the 1883 Paris ‘Salon’, where the picture was first exhibited, what the picture originally looked like. In the earlier version, a washerwoman of almost monumental dimensions was kneeling in front of the tub in the foreground, and, like the other two maids, was spreading out an item of laundry, while behind the right-hand fruit tree another washerwoman with a heavy wooden bucket can be made out. Liebermann later overpainted both figures. At the same time he cropped the picture at the bottom edge by about 20 centimetres, giving it a more oblong format. This benefited the new character of the picture as a landscape with farm maids who now come across as little more than extras. After the overpainting, the tub, which now alone dominates the foreground, has something of the still life about it, and fits harmoniously into the changed atmosphere of the picture.

The picture was painted in Zweeloo. Already in 1871, Liebermann had made a short trip to Holland, and in 1872 he extended his stay to several weeks. Until the end of the Great War he returned there regularly for study purposes.

Max Liebermann (Berlin 1847 – 1935 Berlin): The Bleaching Ground, 1882. Oil on canvas, 109 x 173 cm. Acquired in 1954. Inv. No. WRM 2939. Photo: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln

Max Liebermann
Berlin 1847 – 1935 Berlin

The Bleaching Ground
1882, oil on canvas, 109 x 173 cm
Acquired 1954
Inv. no. WRM 2939
Photo: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln