We have seen that in his decorative representations, Leistikow was inspired primarily by Nordic subject matter. In the Brandenburg March, to a certain extent, he again made contact with the real ground underneath his feet, and thus after some time he returned to the naturalistic conception of nature. Suddenly his eyes opened to the austere beauty of the forests and lakes in the Brandenburg borderland. No other artist was better able to capture the melancholic charm residing in these pine forests, the jagged silhouettes of their dark crowns, projected against the moving clouds and mirrored, at the same time, by black ponds at ground level. Leistikow has become the interpreter of this somber natural beauty for the whole world. He is by no means the first to discover these motifs, but his paintings, above those of all others, are the first to have commanded both artist and layman to stand back in wonder. He has been called the painter of the Brandenburg March.
In the last exhibition of the “XI” group—this group of eleven painters, who had withdrawn from the Association of Berlin Artists in 1892, lasted until 1897—Leistikow had shown two such paintings, which resulted in his first unqualified artistic success. [ . . . ] From his decorative period he continued to use broad surface effects, but in these works he was also able to cultivate the tonal values that depend on air and light. In this individualistic approach he is quite distinct from the French Impressionists with their tingling, mosaic-like, interlinking surface effects. For the major exhibition of the Berlin Artists’ Association held in 1898 at the Lehrter Bahnhof [Lehrter Train Station] he again produced an expansive work in this same individualistic style: black pine trees with a path running along the edge of the water, clouds tinged red from the evening light drifting overhead. He had great hopes for this painting and—it was rejected. This disappointment provided the impetus for founding the Secession. The magnificent painting by Leistikow was purchased right away by the Junker Richard Israel, who donated it to the National Gallery, where it remains one of the pearls of the collection. Many years later this work was the subject of a negative critique by the Kaiser. It happened that, on account of the National Gallery’s acquisition of French Impressionist paintings, the director of the gallery, Hugo von Tschudi, had incurred the great indignation of the Kaiser. Tschudi thought he might be able to rehabilitate himself somewhat in the eyes of the Kaiser by leading him in front of this generally very accessible painting by Leistikow. But just the opposite occurred: His Majesty instructed him acrimoniously that this painting held not even a trace of true nature: “He knows the Grunewald forest and furthermore He is a hunter.” Much earlier, however, when the painting was first rejected, Leistikow recognized clearly that he would never win any advantage or success by showing his work in the exhibitions at the Lehrter Bahnhof. For this reason, he employed all of the means at his disposal to persuade not just the eleven artists of the “XI” group, but a larger group of young artists to break away from the prominent Association of Berlin Artists and form their own association with its own annual exhibition. The most progressive artists of Berlin followed this call and in 1898 the Berlin Secession was founded. Professor Max Lieberman, the man best suited to the office, was elected president.