The birth of modern art in the nineteenth century was attended by images of violence, disgust, fear and death, but also by artists observing the carnage with near-scientific detachment. But never before - and not again until Otto Dix - had an artist invested the life and death of a soldier with as little dignity, with such terse realism and such an eye for the bizarre and the macabre as Adolph Menzel did in his three cycles in the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett which are the subject of the studio exhibition Menzel’s Soldiers - Images of Warat the Alte Nationalgalerie. The exhibition marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and places the 'great seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century’ in a hitherto little-explored aesthetic tradition.
'Alive and as a Corpse’: The Kupferstichkabinett’s presentation at the Alte Nationalgalerie is the first to bring together the poignant watercolours and drawings Menzel made in response to his direct encounters with soldiers. It focuses on the artist’s visits to military hospitals and the battlefields of Königsgrätz in the summer of 1866, on the arrival of French prisoners of war in Berlin in 1870 and the opening of the officers’ crypt beneath the Garrison Church in Berlin in 1873. Menzel, who had studied Frederick II’s historical soldiery in painstaking detail and who had used models to re-enact the scenes of death and dying, went to considerable lengths to visit those three sites to capture the life and death of the common soldier in deeply moving images of great immediacy.
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