Description & Technical information

In his day, Adolph Menzel was perhaps best known as the archetypal Preußenmaler, or ‘Painter of Prussia’, and in particular for his many depictions of the life and times of King Frederick the Great. He made an extensive study of the costumes, uniforms, buildings, interiors and objects of the Frederician period, as well as portraits of the most significant figures of the era. This fine drawing is a preparatory study for an engraved portrait of Frederick’s trusted aide and spymaster, the Prussian general Hans Karl von Winterfeldt; the fourth in a series of twelve large-scale prints entitled Aus König Friedrichs Zeit. Kriegs- und Friedenshelden (From King Frederick’s Time: Heroes of War and Peace), published, without text, between 1854 and 1856 by Alexander Duncker in Berlin. As has been noted, ‘It is precisely because of their autonomy [from any accompanying text] that the prints in this series, each an heroic portrait, achieve their monumental character. Menzel’s ‘non-aristocratic’ eye…nevertheless asserts itself here. The ‘monumentalised’ general is portrayed at a decidedly unheroic, almost intimate moment: he has already taken off his tricorn hat and is loosening his sash.’ The series of woodcuts was also reissued thirty years later, in the 1860s.

This series of large prints, like those Menzel designed for the History of Frederick the Great and The Works of Frederick the Great, have been aptly described as ‘masterpieces of wood engraving. Their range and artistic originality secure for these works a special place in Menzel’s oeuvre. The most thorough preparatory studies of the source material and the artist’s ability mentally to project himself into the 18th century enabled him to reconstruct the personality and influence of Frederick the Great so convincingly that we are persuaded the illustrations must have been made from life. It is Menzel’s conception which continues largely to shape our image of Frederick’s period today.’

The Prussian general Hans Karl von Winterfeldt (1707-1757) was one of Frederick the Great’s most loyal and trusted confidants, serving during the Wars of the Polish and Austrian Successions and the Seven Years’ War. As a young officer he was appointed as aide-de-campto King Frederick William I, and soon became a friend and confidant of the crown prince, the future Frederick the Great. Upon the accession of Frederick the Great in 1740, Winterfeldt was quickly promoted and became the King’s chief liaison with the military. Always enjoying a close relationship with the monarch, he was instrumental in helping Frederick institute army reforms, and was also a pioneer in the field of military intelligence gathering. Winterfeldt rose to the rank of Lieutenant General in 1756, and died in battle the following year. On receiving the news of his death, Frederick is said to have declared that ‘I will never ever find another Winterfeldt…He was a good man, a soulful man; he was my friend.’

At least two other preparatory drawings by Menzel for the same wood engraving are known, both of which appear to represent earlier stages in the development of the pose of the figure. A somewhat sketchier study, also on brown paper but slightly smaller in size, is in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett, while another related chalk study, which shows the general turned slightly more frontally, was at one time in the collection of K. H. Schönfeld and is today in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. The present sheet is the largest and most finished of the three known studies by Menzel for the woodcut, all of which were at one time together in the collection of the National-Galerie in Berlin. All three drawings depict a studio model dressed in historical costume, and for the final print Menzel must have based the actual head of Winterfeldt on an earlier portrait of the general. A number of portrait drawings of Winterfeldt by Menzel are known, all of which are copied from 18th century paintings or sculpted busts of him. 

Menzel’s preparatory drawings for the engraved portrait of Winterfeldt have traditionally been dated to the early months of 1851, on the basis of a brief notice by Friedrich Eggers in the Deutsches Kunstblattof 10 May 1851: ‘Berlin. April.Adolph Menzel has just completed the drawing of General Winterfeld [sic] for the series of heroic portraits from the Seven Years’ War which he will publish as woodcuts. One may always rest assured that Menzel knows to resolve every task in this field singularly and characteristically, and he succeeds so completely that one always believes his latest accomplishment to be the best thing one has seen from him. Everything is alive in this figure. The war hero has just looked through the maps lying on the table and is now about to change his sword; it is clear in his countenance that plans have been conceived at the same time as the determination to implement them.’ The faintly inscribed date of 1850 on the present sheet, however, would suggest that the drawings for this particular print should in fact be dated to the previous year.

Among stylistically comparable drawings that may be related to other prints in the series From King Frederick’s Time: Heroes of War and Peace is a study of Prince Leopold I of Anhalt-Dessau, in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin.

Some years later, in 1857, Menzel created a second ‘portrait’ of Winterfeldt, when he made a pencil study of the general’s corpse in its coffin, at the time of the transferral of his remains from his estate in Silesia to the Invalidenfriedhof, the military cemetery in Berlin.

The German physician, collector and philanthropist Dr. Gustav Rau (1922-2002) assembled a large and eclectic collection while at the same time working as a doctor in Africa. He built a children’s hospital in the town of Ciriri in Eastern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), but would travel to Europe several times a year to attend auctions and visit art dealers. His collection of Old Master and Impressionist paintings – by artists such as Fra Angelico, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Lucas Cranach, Edgar Degas, Gerrit Dou, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, El Greco, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Guido Reni and Auguste Renoir - was kept in a warehouse in Zurich. In 1993 he retired from his medical work and settled in Monaco. Before his death in 2002 he left the bulk of his collection to UNICEF in Germany, to be used to finance humanitarian projects in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World.

Date:  1850
Period:  1750-1850, 19th century
Origin:  Germany
Medium: Black chalk, With stumping, with touches of white chalk, on brown paper, laid down on thin cardboard
Signature: Very faintly signed and dated A. M. / 50 at the lower left.

Dimensions: 30.3 x 24.8 cm (11⁷/₈ x 9³/₄ inches)
Provenance: Königlichen National-Galerie, Berlin
Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 21 June 1991, lot 57
Dr. Gustav Rau, Stuttgart
Bequeathed to UNICEF Germany in 2002
Rau sale (‘The Rau Collection for UNICEF II’), Cologne, Kunsthaus Lempertz, 16 November 2013, lot 1555
Thomas Le Claire, Hamburg.

Literature: Max Jordan and Robert Dohme, Das Werk Adolf Menzels, Munich, 1890, Vol.I, illustrated p.47; Lionel von Donop, Katalog der Handzeichnungen Aquarelle und Oelstudien in der Königl. National-Galerie, Berlin, 1902, p.310, no.177 (‘Derselbe [Hans Karl von Winterfeldt]. Veränderte Skizze. – Bez. A. M. 50. Gelbliches Papier, Kreide, Weiss gehöht, h. 0,302, br. 0,247.’, not illustrated); Düsseldorf, C. G. Boerner, Neue Lagerliste 92. Von Caspar David Friedrich zu Adolph Menzel: Deutsche Künstler im 19. Jahrhundert, 1990, p.44, under no.27.

Exhibitions: Berlin, Königliche National-Galerie, Ausstellung von Werken Adolph von Menzels, 1905, no.527.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints