Adolf von Menzel

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Menzel, Adolf von


Born Dec. 8, 1815, in Breslau, in present-day Wroclaw, Poland; died Feb. 9, 1905, in Berlin. German painter and graphic artist.

Although Menzel studied lithography with his father and attended the Academy of Arts in Berlin in 1830, he was basically self-taught. He traveled to Paris (1855, 1867, 1868) and Verona (1880,1881,1882). Menzel’s picturesque illustrations for F. Kugler’s History of Frederick the Great, with effective chiaroscuro (wood engraving after Menzel’s drawings, 1839-42), and his paintings of scenes from the life of Frederick II (Concert of Frederick II in Sans Souci, 1852, National Gallery, Berlin) recreate daily life in 18th-century Prussia. These works expressively and accurately reflect customs and manners and contain lifelike character studies (although the portrayals of the king tend to be idealized).

Menzel’s works done in the 1840’s (Room With Balcony, 1845; Construction Site With Willows, 1846—both in the National Gallery, Berlin), filled with light and air, anticipate the development of European realistic painting of the second half of the 19th century (subject matter, fragmented composition, energetic brushstroke, interest in plein air painting, and a wealth of tonal values). The painting Honoring the March Dead (1848, Kunsthalle, Hamburg) is devoted to the revolutionary events of 1848.

Menzel’s meticulous treatment of his subjects and his democratic sentiments are reflected in his spontaneous, brightly colored genre paintings (Theater Gymnase, 1856, National Gallery, Berlin; Afternoon in the Tuileries, 1867, Dresden Picture Gallery), and depictions of folk life and labor themes (Construction Scene, 1875, private collection, Berlin; Market in Verona, 1884, Dresden Picture Gallery; The Foundry, 1875, National Gallery, Berlin). The last work was the first European painting to depict the rigor of industrial labor. It combined genre and epic principles of art.

Menzel was a prolific graphic artist, producing more than 5,000 drawings (National Gallery, Berlin). He was also a master of watercolor, gouache, etching, and lithography.


Kaiser, K. Adolph Menzel. Berlin, 1956; Stuttgart, 1965.
Hiitt, W. Adolph Menzel. Leipzig, 1965; Vienna, 1965.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The final section of the study discusses Fontane's attitude to the illustration of his work by the graphic artist Ludwig Burger, and then broadens into a discussion of the relation between the literary and the visual arts, particularly the historical painting of the time as represented especially by Adolf von Menzel. Drawing on Fontane's art criticism of the 1860s, Professor Osborne finds that it evolves in parallel with the author's literary and ideological development, and he damns it with equally faint praise.