Adolph Menzel was the eye of the nineteenth century. In autumn of 2019, the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett – which possesses the largest collection of works on paper by this German artist, comprising more than 6,000 works – is rediscovering Menzel as a painter of works on paper with a major solo exhibition. The show will feature around 100 works in watercolour, pastels and gouache from the museum’s own holdings, along with a number of key loans. Together, they offer the first comprehensive survey of Menzel’s painterly works on paper.
Adolph Menzel (1815–1905) is known as a painter of large works on canvas, and as the creator of countless studies in pencil. But it was first as a painter of works on paper that he began to employ the full palette of his artistic gifts of expression, creating colourful works ranging from experimental portrait studies through to elaborately composed paintings.
The majority of the works shown in the exhibition are standalone works, however there are also a number of preparatory studies for famous paintings – including the portrait studies carried out in preparation for the coronation picture commissioned by King Wilhelm I, which Menzel painted between 1861 and 1865, and which represents the largest and of Menzel’s paintings, depicting countless figures.
The exhibition presents the different sides of Menzel’s work as a painter of works on paper chronologically and according to techniques, arranging selected works into 10 ‘chapters’. At the same time, it gives visitors an insight into the specific effects of watercolours, pastels and gouache, and Menzel’s particular mixed technique. There is a particular focus on his pastel technique, which between the mid-1840s and the late 1850s functioned as a crucial bridge between drawing and painting for Menzel.
Alongside fragmentary sketches, the show will also feature experiments and abandoned drafts – such as a detailed “drapery study” rendered by Menzel in luminous chalk on paper, and later destroyed with energetic gestures.
Hidden among the scenic depictions, a particular sensation awaits audiences in the form of the portrait pair Gentleman and Lady in a Train Compartment (1859), which first joined the collection in 1907. Presumed lost for decades after disappearing during the Second World War, the “Lady” was recently able to be regained for the Kupferstichkabinett’s collection. The couple, so cold in their interaction with one another, observed by Menzel with his keen sense for the twists and turns of human relationships, is now back together for the first time in more than 70 years.
Also on show are works that are not just sketched out as scenes, but are also worked over in other media covering the full expanse of the sheet. Platz für den großen Raffael (Room for the Great Raphael), a loan from the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, represents Menzel’s tendency to rework pictures using various techniques: begun in 1855 in pastels, Menzel completed the work four years later in gouache.
The figures in Schlittschuhläufer (Ice Skaters), acquired for the Kupferstichkabinett in 2018, are also rendered by Menzel in pastel on a monumental scale – in this case though, the work was not later reworked in gouache. This work was produced in 1855, shortly after Menzel’s first visit to France, and bears testament to the modernity that Menzel had been able to witness first hand in Paris, and which is represented in the exhibition by the loan from the Hamburg Kunsthalle, Erinnerung an Paris (Memory of Paris).
From the 1860s onwards, Menzel’s production was dominated by a polished gouache and mixed technique. An impressive example of this can be found in Schutzmann im Winter (Constable in Winter, 1860/1865), a full-sheet depiction of his own contemporary context. As was the case with the portrait Oberregierungsrath Knerk (Senior Privy Councillor Knerk, 1863/1865), the whereabouts of the Constable had been unknown since 1941 as a result of the war. Back in the museum’s collection as of this spring, the works can now be presented to the public once more.
The exhibition is capped off by three outstanding groups of works from the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett: the Kinderalbum (Children’s Album), which was produced as an unbound series of 44 gouache paintings for Menzel’s niece Gretel and nephew Otto; the commissioned work on the designs for the “kitchenware” made by the Royal Porcelain Manufacture Berlin for the silver wedding anniversary of the Crown Prince and Princess in 1883; and Menzel’s idiosyncratically interpreted allegories.
Menzel: Painter on Paper is curated by the Menzel experts Werner Busch and Claude Keisch, Anna Marie Pfäfflin (curator for nineteenth-century art at the Kupferstichkabinett) and Georg Josef Dietz (Director of the conservation and restoration department of the Kupferstichkabinett).
The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive publication released by Imhof Verlag.
A special exhibition by the Kupferstichkabinett of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
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