Adolph Friedrich Erdmann von Menzel (1815-1905)
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Adolph von Menzel was a German artist noted for drawings, etchings, and paintings. His father was the headmaster of a school for girls, and intended to educate his son as a professor; but he would not thwart his taste for art. Left an orphan in 1832, Menzel had to maintain his family. In 1833 Sachse of Berlin published his first work, an album of pen-and-ink drawings reproduced on stone, to illustrate Goethe’s little poem, Kunstlers Erdenwallen. He executed lithographs in the same manner to illustrate Denkwürdigkeiten aus der brandenburgisch-preussischen Geschichte; The Five Senses and The Prayer, as well as diplomas for various corporations and societies.
From 1839 to 1842 he produced 400 drawings, largely introducing to Germany the technique of wood engraving, to illustrate the Geschichte Friedrichs des Grossen (History of Frederick the Great) by Franz Kugler. He subsequently brought out Friedrichs der Grossen Armee in ihrer Uniformirung (The Uniforms of the Army under Frederick the Great), Soldaten Friedrichs der Grossen (The Soldiers of Frederick the Great); and finally, by order of the king Frederick William IV, he illustrated the works of Frederick the Great, Illustrationen zu den Werken Friedricks des Grossen (1843-1849). By these works Menzel established his claim to be considered one of the first, if not actually the first, of the illustrators of his day in his own line.
Meanwhile Menzel had set himself to study unaided the art of painting, and he soon produced a great number and variety of pictures, always showing keen observation and honest workmanship in subjects dealing with the life and achievements of Frederick the Great, and scenes of everyday life, such as In the Tuileries, The Ball Supper, and At Confession. Among the most important of these works are The Forge (1875) and The Market-place at Verona. Invited to paint The Coronation of William I at Koenigsberg, he produced an exact representation of the ceremony without regard to the traditions of official painting.
In Germany he received many honors, and was the first painter to be given the Order of the Black Eagle in 1898 which included a title of nobility, becoming von Menzel. Still wondering about a 19th century German painting in your family collection? Contact us…it could be by Adolph von Menzel.