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New Acquisition of a Work by Adolph von Menzel for the Kupferstichkabinett

01.02.2019
Kupferstichkabinett

The Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings) of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin was able to acquire the large-format pastel by Adolph Menzel, Die Schlittschuhläufer (Ice Skaters, 1855–56), for 325,000 euros (including the premium) at the Villa Grisebach spring auction on 30 May 2018. The purchase was made possible by the generous support of the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the Kulturstiftung der Länder (Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States), the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, the Rudolf-August Oetker Stiftung and through the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s own resources. After careful restoration the work will be presented to the public in 2019 in two special exhibitions.

“The pastel by this great Berlin artist showing a local scene now complements the holdings from Menzel’s oeuvre in Berlin, the most important collection of his works in the world and already home to the only study for this work. It is completely logical and without a shadow of a doubt that this work should become a part of the Kupferstichkabinett. I am delighted that Menzel’s Die Schlittschuhläufer will soon be presented once again to the public after so many decades”, explained Markus Hilgert, Secretary General of the Kulturstiftung der Länder. Commenting on its role, Martin Hoernes, Secretary General of the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung stated: “Purchases for important museums are rare and such artworks must precisely fit the requirements of the high-quality collections. Menzel’s Schlittschuhläufer is a successful addition to Berlin’s Kupferstichkabinett, which is why the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung has so gladly agreed to participate”.

Menzel’s Schlittschuhläufer represents an important addition to the Kupferstichkabinett collection”, according to Michael Eissenhauer, Director General of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. “Our thanks go first and foremost to the sponsors, whose exemplary mutual efforts made it possible to secure this masterpiece for the public domain and to make it available to a wide audience.

The pastel was in a private collection for over sixty years and only recently went back on the market.  Based on information from Menzel experts Prof. Dr. Werner Busch and Dr. Claude Keisch, the Kupferstichkabinett, with its purchase of the Schlittschuhläufer, was able to add a missing piece of the mosaic represented by the world’s largest collection of works by Adolf Menzel. Not only does the depicted winter scene – a crowd of skaters surging across the ice toward the viewer – take place in the Berlin Tiergarten across from the Kupferstichkabinett and Menzel’s last residence, but the only preliminary sketch for Schlittschuhläufer, contained in Menzel’s sketchbook no. 14 (1855–56), is also in that museum’s collection. A juxtaposition of the two works illustrates the process of creation better than is possible anywhere else.

Produced after Menzel’s first trip to France in September 1855, the composition anticipates numerous aspects of Modern Art, such as figures truncated by the edge of the image and the change of perspective within the depiction. In this work in pastel, painting and drawing appear inseparably linked. Pastels play a central role in Menzel’s oeuvre from the late 1840s to the 1850s. It was a period in which he increasingly turned to painting. The technique of pastel – embodying characteristics of both drawing and painting – is a most suitable medium for this purpose.

The provenance of the work was carefully verified by the Zentralarchiv (Central Archive) of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in collaboration with the Villa Griesbach. Initially part of the Wertheim collection, the pastel was acquired prior to 1930 by Julius Wilhelm Böhler from the Galerie Fischer in Lucerne, Switzerland. In 1955 the Stuttgarter Kunstkabinett Ketterer auctioned the work from Böhler’s private collection, which is how it came into a private collection in Hessen, where it remained until 2018.

Since its acquisition the pastel has been carefully examined by the Kupferstichkabinett’s department of conservation and restoration. A missing section in the lower left corner that had only been provisionally repaired decades ago has been replaced according to museum standards and a conservation frame, based on the historical style of the times and intended to protect and display the work, is planned.

Adolph Menzel’s Die Schlittschuhläufer will be presented to the public in its restored form in two special exhibitions in 2019. As of 13 April 2019 the work can be viewed in the special exhibition In bester Gesellschaft. Ausgewählte Erwerbungen 2009–2019 (In the Best of Company: Selected Acquisitions from the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett, 2009–2019), which presents the museum’s most important new accessions over the last ten years. From 20 September 2019 until early January 2020, the work will be part of the extensive exhibition, Menzel. Maler auf Papier (Menzel: Painter on Paper), which rediscovers Menzel as a painter on paper with around 100 works carried out in watercolour, pastel and gouache.