Description & Technical information

This charming watercolour is a portrait of Emilie Fontane, née Rouanet-Kummer (1824-1902), the wife of Menzel’s longtime friend, the German Realist novelist and poet Theodor Fontane (1819-1898). She is depicted sitting by the railing on the deck of a river steamer, reading a book held in one hand and holding an open umbrella against the wind in her other, gloved hand. Menzel made this small watercolour as a token of affection for Emilie Fontane, who, like her husband, maintained a correspondence with the artist well into his late years. The inscription on the verso, written in Menzel’s distinctive hand, may be approximately translated as: ‘May, my lady, your disappointment at the sight of the other side [of this drawing] not be so great as to caution you against ever dining again, on occasion, with a little friend. Berlin 16 March 1872.’

Much of Menzel’s vast corpus of drawings is executed in pencil, chalks or charcoal, and the use of watercolour is relatively rare in his drawn oeuvre. A stylistically comparable small watercolour of a young girl with a cat, of slightly smaller dimensions, is in a private collection in Germany. 

Theodor Fontane frequently wrote in praise of the artist. As he once noted, ‘Menzel is the master of every branch of his art, but, even more, he is the master of his own passions. The human in him still surpasses the artist. What he is in his greatness, he is, above all, through his human qualities, through his rare incarnation of diligence, responsibility, and courage.’

The present sheet was once part of the large art collection of the industrialist Berthold Nothmann (1865-1942). A native of Upper Silesia, Nothmann worked as an employee and director of the Hudschinsky tube factories in Breslau and Gleiwitz (now Wroclau and Gliwice in Poland). A friend of Max Liebermann, Nothmann was a passionate art collector, and owned works by Paul Cézanne and Otto Mueller, among many others, and is also known to have met Henri Matisse. On his retirement in 1931, he settled first in Düsseldorf and then in Wannsee in Berlin, and devoted himself to his art collection. Much of the collection was sold, however, before Nothmann and his wife Martha emigrated to London in 1939. He died there, without descendants, in February 1942. 

The present sheet has been included in a number of significant exhibitions of Menzel’s work, including the huge memorial exhibition held at the National-Galerie in Berlin in 1905 and the Ausstellung Adolph von Menzel aus Anlass seines 50 Todesjahres at the Museum Dahlem in Berlin in 1955. It was exhibited in public most recently in Berlin and London in 1965.

Date:  1872
Period:  1850-1900, 19th century
Origin:  Germany
Medium: Watercolour, Gouache on thin cardboard
Signature: Extensively inscribed and dated by the artist 'Möge, Verehrte Frau, / Ihre Enttäuschung beim / Anblick des Umseitigen / nicht so groß sein, um Ihnen / zur Warnung zu Werden, / jemals wieder bei jeweili-/  ger Gelegenheit mit / Jemanden / ein Vihlipbchen [Vielliebchen] zu essen / B[erlin]16 Marz 1872.' in brown ink on the verso.

Dimensions: 11.2 x 7.3 cm (4³/₈ x 2⁷/₈ inches)
Provenance: Presented by the artist to the sitter, Emilie Rouanet-Kummer Fontane, Berlin
Thence by descent in the Fontane family from 1902
Berthold and Martha Nothmann, Wannsee, Berlin, by 1936
Acquired from them on 12 May 1938 by Galerie Heinemann, Munich
Purchased from them in August 1938 by Dr. Frenztel, Elbing
His sale, Berlin, Hans W. Lange, 18 October 1940, lot 529 (sold for 3,500 Reichsmarks)
Private collection, Berlin, by 1955
Herbert Klewer, Berlin, by 1965
Private collection, Berlin
Anonymous sale, Berlin, Villa Grisebach, 26 November 2014, lot 202 
Private collection.

Literature: Hugo von Tschudi, Adolph von Menzel: Abbildungen seiner Gemälde und Studien, Munich, 1905, pp.380-381, no.581 (‘Lesende Dame’); Berthold Nothmann, Meine Lebenserinnerungen, für die Familie bestimmt (Wannsee, November 1936), unpublished typescript, Leo Baeck Institute, New York, p.58; Gisold Lammel, Adolph Menzel und seine Kreise, Dresden and Basel, 1993, p.74; Claude Keisch, ‘“Ja, wer ist Menzel?”’, in Claude Keisch, Peter-Klaus Schuster and Moritz Wullen, ed., Fontane und die bildende Kunst, exhibition catalogue, Berlin, 1998, p.200. 

Exhibitions: Berlin, Königliche National-Galerie, Ausstellung von Werken Adolph von Menzels, 1905, no.238 (‘Lesende Dame. Vielliebchengeschenk für Frau E. Fontane’); Berlin, Museum Dahlem, Ausstellung Adolph von Menzel aus Anlass seines 50 Todesjahres, 1955, no.119; Berlin, Haus am Tiergarten, Adolph Menzel 1815-1905: Pastelle, Aquarelle und Zeichnungen, 1965, no.56; London, The Arts Council Gallery, and elsewhere, Drawings and watercolours by Adolph Menzel, 1965, no.61.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints