The Plesch Family Portrait: A Painting by Max Slevogt

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In 1928, Max Slevogt (1868–1932) painted the Plesch family. On the left, we see the well-known doctor Janos Plesch (1878–1957) and in the middle, his wife Melanie surrounded by their three children: Andreas Odilo, on his mother's lap, Dagmar Honoria, at the bottom right, and Peter Hariolf.

The Family and Their Painter

Janos Plesch left Budapest to settle in Berlin in 1903. There he met his wife Melanie, née Gans, whose family had co-founded the Casella dye factory in Frankfurt. The doctor had a longstanding friendship with Max Slevogt, one of German Impressionism's most important figures alongside Max Liebermann and Lovis Corinth. The artist painted his doctor as an elegant gentleman on a tall canvas in 1923, followed by paintings for their loggia and garden pavilion and finally, in 1928, the family portrait, which hung in the first-floor hall leading to the family's private rooms.

Intimate Yet Representative

Though Slevogt's composition follows the family-portrait tradition of the Biedermeier period, the painter achieved a synthesis unusual for a modern family portrait: the painting captures the intimacy of family life while fulfilling a group portrait's representative function. The success of the portrait lies perhaps in the fact that it grew out of a long friendship between artist and commissioner based on mutual trust and similar values.

Emigration

In 1933, Janos Plesch lost his professorship at the Charité teaching hospital and the family fled to England via Switzerland. In Berlin, their secretary arrange for all their household possessions to be shipped to the United Kingdom. That is how this family portrait, too, was rescued.

The Painting's Return to Berlin

Back in 1986, their eldest son Peter Plesch donated his parents' considerable accumulation of possessions to what was then still the Jewish department of the Berlin Museum. Twenty years later, the Jewish Museum Berlin was able to acquire this painting from him.

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