With the exhibition Impressionismus in Leipzig 1900–1914 the MdbK addresses its own history at the beginning of the 20th century. The largely forgotten exhibitions of Max Liebermann, Max Slevogt and Lovis Corinth, staged at the museum by the Leipziger Kunstverein between 1904 and 1911, are reconstructed and correlated to the paintings purchased by the museum at that time. The early exhibition dates prove that Leipzig was a key location for imparting impressionist art – at least from the viewpoint of the leading galleries in the German Empire: Ernst Arnold in Dresden and Paul Cassirer in Berlin. At the invitation of the Leipziger Kunstverein they moved into the holy temple grounds of the museum to stage a sales exhibition with artists including Liebermann, Slevogt and Corinth. This collaboration between art market and institution may seem strange in retrospect, but it took place in all openness and media transparency.
The extent to which Liebermann, Slevogt or Corinth were impressionist painters or pioneers of modernism is not the subject of this exhibition. Instead, the focus is upon the emergence of Leipzig as a modern city before the outbreak of the First World War. Taking the reconstructed exhibitions as a starting point, historic cross sections are established, the breadth of which ranges from news from the fields of politics, business, sport and crime to the weather forecast. One thing that it is easy to forget in view of the far-reaching social changes arising from digital advances: Compared to today, Leipzig definitely had more daily newspapers, publishing houses and large businesses, an undoubtedly larger range of theatres, varieté, dancing and concert offers and at least as many restaurants, cafés and hotels. In addition, there was also a large if not larger number of suicides, fatal traffic and work accidents as well as rapes, murders and other crimes.
It is against this broad background of social strata that the paintings of Liebermann, Slevogt and Corinth offered for sale in Leipzig appear. The exhibition consequently also features successful gallery owners, long-forgotten private collectors, quarrelling local artist associations and missed opportunities for the Museum der bildenden Künste to purchase works. The social spectacle of art on display here was remarkably short-lived: alternating monthly, up to four artistic positions were exhibited at the same time in extremely cramped circumstances, with 50 and more exhibitions shown each year.