Adolph Menzel was born in Breslau in 1815, the son of a headmaster, who soon afterwards founded a lithographic press, in which Adolph worked from the age of fourteen. The family moved to Berlin in 1830 and Adolph soon became responsible after his father’s untimely death. In 1833, Menzel attended the Royal Academy of Art, where he met the wallpaper manufacturer Carl Heinrich Arnold, who would become a friend and patron. Success as an artist came early with a commission from the art dealer and publisher Louis Sachse. Menzel joined the prestigious Royal Academy of Art in 1853 as professor. Two years later, Menzel visited Paris for the first time and would return frequently to the French capital. In 1867, Menzel was decorated with the Cross of the Légion d’honneur and awarded a medal for his painting of Frederick and His Troops at the Battle of Hochkirch. The first comprehensive show of his work was mounted in 1884, followed by numerous shows in Germany and abroad. He was made an honorary citizen of Breslau and Berlin, an honorary member of the St Petersburg Academy, and member of the Paris and London Academies. In 1898, he became the first artist to be knighted, allowing him to become Adolph von Menzel. Menzel died in Berlin in 1905.
Exceedingly prolific during his lifetime, with over 10,000 recorded drawings, Menzel’s artistic output entered institutions and private collections at rapid speed, with few works being available. The trailblazer of German Realist art, Menzel strived to render drawings that were more realistic than photography could capture.
The present Menzel drawing from 1888 bears witness to the artist’s adoption of graphite and stump as his most important tools in his later years, after abandoning urban life subjects in oils. As a great admirer of Rembrandt etchings, Menzel ultimately returned to pencil drawings, the medium in which he would leave his most important legacy. Our bearded gentleman seems to have made another appearance in a later drawing, now in Berlin’s Kupferstichkabinett.