Description & Technical information

In his last years, Adolph Menzel lived an increasingly reclusive life, rarely leaving his studio at Sigismundstrasse 3 in Berlin, where he worked from 1875 until his death. As one early biographer noted of the artist, ‘There he lived, visited by only a few close friends, on the fourth floor; his studio was on the fifth. On the landing, one could encounter old, ugly models, ‘character heads’, which he preferred for practice in these late years.’ Menzel’s abiding interest, in the 1890s, was the human countenance, and his output was dominated by pencil drawings of heads and busts of figures. To this end, he employed a steady stream of amateur models, often old men and women off the street. The artist was attracted, no doubt, to the expressive faces of the elderly, which were full of character.

As the Menzel scholar Marie Ursula Riemann-Reyher has commented, ‘Pencil is used in the most diverse manifestations in these exercises, from the finest and most delicate line to rough assaults which tear the surface of the paper…It was not individual destiny that he portrayed in these faces, but rather something universally human which he tried to grasp in fascination, like feelings which translated both the image and its reflection...His encounters with these people, mostly elderly and of modest means, was one of Menzel’s last essential human experiences.’   

The old woman seen in this drawing must have been of particular interest to Menzel, as she appears in several other drawings by the artist. A study of the same woman, dated 1891, is in the Kunsthalle in Bremen, while the model reappears in a drawing of three old women of 1892, today in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin.  

Date:  1894
Period:  1850-1900, 19th century
Origin:  Germany
Medium: Carpenter’s pencil, With stumping
Dimensions: 21 x 13 cm (8¹/₄ x 5¹/₈ inches)
Provenance: Anonymous sale, Berlin, Villa Grisebach, 28 May 2014, lot 225
Private collection.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints