A Bearded Man Looking Down to the Left
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Adolph Von MENZEL

A Bearded Man Looking Down to the Left

Stephen Ongpin Fine Art

Date 1891

Period 1850-1900, 19th century

Origin Germany

Medium With stumping, Black chalk, Graphite (carpenter’s pencil)

Dimension 20.6 x 13 cm (8¹/₈ x 5¹/₈ inches)

In his later years Adolph von Menzel developed an interest in depicting people at close range, with a particular emphasis on studies of heads. Meyerheim noted that at the height of his career Menzel preferred to use ordinary people as models, and would choose his subjects from a line of people that would assemble at his studio door. As one scholar has noted of these studies, of which the present sheet is an exceptionally large and 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.’ Menzel’s late ‘portrait’ drawings of this type were equally admired in his own lifetime. As one contemporary writer noted, ‘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.’ 

Dated 1891, the present sheet is an especially fine example of the late drawings of heads that were much admired by Menzel’s contemporaries, critics and collectors. The treatment of the hair and beard, drawn with very fine pencil strokes, as well as the soft stumped areas of the face and clothing, are a particular feature of these character studies. Like many of Menzel’s late drawings, this striking study of an elderly bearded man, drawn with considerable assurance and dexterity, cannot be related to any painting or gouache by the artist, and was in all likelihood executed for its own sake.

The first owner of this drawing was the Austrian industrialist Moritz Edler von Kuffner (1854-1939), a brewer and property developer who was one of the most significant Viennese collectors of the 19th century. (He was also a prominent and gifted mountaineer.) Von Kuffner assembled a very fine collection of drawings by Menzel, as well as drawings by Jacopo Ligozzi, Rembrandt, Rudolf von Alt, and others. (The Menzel drawings in the collection were noted by Hans Tietze in his magisterial book on the artworks of Vienna, published in 19084.) Such was the renown of the Menzel drawings in the Kuffner collection that at one point thirteen sheets by the artist were earmarked for acquisition by the curator of the Albertina in Vienna, Otto Benesch. However, all but one of the drawings were eventually returned to the family in July 1938, shortly before they were forced to emigrate to Switzerland, following the Anschluss. The drawings were inherited by Moritz’s son Stephan Kuffner (1894-1976), and eventually passed to his niece, Vera von Kuffner Eberstadt (1928-2014).

Date: 1891

Period: 1850-1900, 19th century

Origin: Germany

Medium: With stumping, Black chalk, Graphite (carpenter’s pencil)

Signature: Signed with initials and dated A.M. / 91 at the lower left.

Dimension: 20.6 x 13 cm (8¹/₈ x 5¹/₈ inches)

Provenance: Moritz Edler von Kuffner, Vienna
His son, Stephan von Kuffner
Thence by descent to Moritz von Kuffner’s granddaughter, Vera von Kuffner Eberstadt, New York.

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