Description & Technical information

In his later years Adolph Menzel developed an interest in depicting people at close range, with a particular emphasis on studies of heads. His friend Paul Meyerheim noted that, at the height of his career, Menzel preferred to use non-professional models, and would choose his subjects from a line of people that would assemble at his studio door. As one modern scholar has noted of these studies, of which the present sheet is an exceptionally fine example, ‘almost all of these drawings show ordinary people with strong individual features; they are not portraits of artists, intellectuals or members of the fashionable Berlin society who tried to intrude into the artist’s stubbornly defended privacy. The bust- or half-length portraits depict no activity. Menzel isolated his sitters from their setting and imbued them with a sense of permanence that stands in stark contrast to the movement and momentary effect captured in his earlier images.’

The present sheet displays Menzel’s particular mastery, while drawing in monochrome, of the use of a combination of a soft carpenter’s pencil with stumping to create remarkable tonal effects. The soft greys of the model’s face, hair and coat, drawn with the stumped pencil, provide a contrast with the more precise strokes of the pencil seen in the beard. Like several of Menzel’s late head studies, the model here is depicted from a slightly unusual angle, while the image fills the page, constrained only by the edges of the sheet.

Drawn on a relatively small scale, these intimate late ‘portrait’ studies were much admired in Menzel’s own lifetime. As one contemporary writer noted of the artist in 1902, ‘The best legacy among his later works are these drawings…His dominating skill is to take the great drama of gesture and facial expression by surprise and to render it in all the force of vitality.’

Date:  1892
Period:  1850-1900, 19th century
Origin:  Germany
Medium: Carpenter’s pencil, With stumping
Signature: Signed with initials and dated A. M./ 92 at the upper right.

Dimensions: 20.8 x 13 cm (8¹/₄ x 5¹/₈ inches)
Provenance: Anonymous sale, London, Bonham’s,14 November 2006, lot 51 (unsold)
Anonymous sale, New York, Bonham’s, 26 January 2007, lot 45
Jill Newhouse, New York
Private collection.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints