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Wilhelm Leibl
Date: German painter and printmaker, 1844–1900
Biography: German realist painter of portraits and scenes of peasant life. Leibl was born in Cologne and apprenticed to a locksmith before beginning his artistic training with the local painter Hermann Becker in 1861. He entered the Munich Academy in 1864, 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 backgrounds. 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 sketch-like quality of his earlier paintings was replaced by greater precision and attention to drawing. His intensely realistic mature style recalls Hans Holbein in its clarity of definition. During the following 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.