Adolph von Menzel

(1815 – 1905)
Master Draughtsman

While still alive, Adolph Menzel was acclaimed with this epithet. Every unprepossessing tireless detail prompted this observer of his surroundings to spontaneous sketches, as he cap- tured the unconscious reactions of his fellow men and committed them to paper. For this purpose, he always had various sketchbooks and implements at the ready in the eight pockets of his coat. Menzel found his subject matter in both everyday life and well-known monuments; beggars, labourers, and dead soldiers interested him as much as opulent galas in imperial Berlin. His manically searching gaze found everywhere gestures or objects with a character he needed to capture. In the process, Menzel always stayed true to his role as an objective transcriber, without clouding the expressions of his depictions with engagement or emotion. The only thing one seeks almost in vain among his subjects is overly polished or harmonious beauty, which, like pure landscape, ever greatly stirred Menzel’s interest.

Despite being a prominent figure of the ascendant metropolis, Menzel always remained an artistic maverick, never leading a large studio and refusing to work with collaborators. In his private life as well, the diminutive painter kept to himself and lived in the household of his sister Emilie’s family. Menzel’s legacy of portrait drawings is primarily therefore of relatives or his few close friends, such as the Arnold and Maercker families or Dr. Puhlmann. The rare exceptions were important commissions regarding the history of the House of Hohenzollern or his life-long interest in the figure of Frederick the Great.

The sketches and watercolours brought together in this catalogue illustrate a cross-section of Menzel’s very private subjects and at the same time reflect the great breadth of his draughtsmanship. Furthermore, multiple preparatory studies for paintings reveal the working method of the artist, who only translated a fraction of his store of drawn ideas into larger pictorial compositions. We hope that this small selection will awaken the reader’s curiosity for the incredible diversity of life drawn in the work of Adolph Menzel.